The First-Person Narrative in Legal Scholarship
If Jeff Lipshaw taught me one thing (and really he has only taught me one thing), it is that you never respond to anonymous blog commentators.
So don’t consider this a response to the anonymous commentators to my post on my lateral hiring market essay (I think Scott Moss answered them satisfactorily), but rather to consider whether there is something that first-person narrative brings to legal writing that is otherwise missing.
I know my friend Nancy Levit of UMKC School of Law thinks so. Along with Allen Rostron, Nancy started a series in the UMKC Law Review last year called “Law Stories: Tales from Legal Practice, Experience, and Education,” 75 UMKC L Rev 1127 (2007). Their purpose in starting this project was to expand on the art of legal storytelling:
Over the last few decades, storytelling became a subject of enormous interest and controversy within the world of legal scholarship. Law review articles appeared in the form of stories. Law professors pointed out that legal decisions were really stories that told a dominant narrative. Critical theorists began to tell counterstories to challenge or critique the traditional canon. Some used fictional stories as a method of analytical critique; others told accounts of actual events in ways that gave voice to the experiences of outsiders.
Storytelling began to make its way into legal education in new ways. For instance, a major textbook publisher developed a new series of books that recount the stories behind landmark cases in specific subject areas, such as Torts or Employment Discrimination, to help students appreciate not only the players in major cases, but also the social context in which cases arise. Meanwhile, Scott Turow, John Grisham, and a legion of other lawyers invaded the realm of popular fiction and conquered the bestseller lists.
Legal theorists began to recognize what historians and practicing lawyers had long known and what cognitive psychologists were just discovering – the extraordinary power of stories. Stories are the way people, including judges and jurors, understand situations. People recall events in story form. Stories are educative; they illuminate different perspectives and evoke empathy. Stories create bonds; their evocative details engage people in ways that sterile legal arguments do not.
Because, like Nancy and Allen, I believe that legal storytelling is not only educative, but also a way to illuminate different perspectives, I chose to contribute this year to the Second Law Stories Series. My paper, Mediating the Special Education Front Lines in Mississippi, comes directly from my first-hand experiences as a special education mediator in Mississippi. I felt that there was no better way to explain the complexity involved in legal situations when a child who has been imprisoned for a violent crime still must receive special education services.
Similarly, on a lighter, more self-deprecating note, I felt that the narrative voice would be the best way to get across the complexities of the law professor lateral market. Using storytelling again as my device was a way to evoke sympathy, hopefully induce laughter, but also certainly to educate about the difficulties of the process. In the feedback I have received from non-anonymous commentators, I believe I have been largely successful in this endeavor.
So, I ask you, readers of Concurring Opinions, should legal storytelling have a continuing, meaningful place in legal scholarship? And if so, aren’t some forms of legal blogging (not all) nothing more than elaborate ways of telling a good legal story and therefore, also a type of legal scholarship?