Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dickens, Whish-Wilson and loud lawyers

Does anyone love the sound of his or her own voice as much as a lawyer does? (I add her advisedly. One of the loudest, most obtrusive lawyers I've ever run into, whose clownish antics destroyed my quiet efforts to enjoy a baseball game on television, was a woman, and a public defender, no less, just as high on adrenaline, self-importance, and lack of sleep as her more mercenary male colleagues.) From my experience in bars, cafés, and other places of public relaxation, I'd say actors, salesmen, and political operatives give them a run for their money, but lawyers win on sheer weight of numbers; there are so many of them.

Two of the books I'm reading now note this vocal brand of lawyerly self-love. Charles Dickens' Bleak House tells us that the deliciously named Chancery lawyer Conversation Kenge
"appeared to enjoy beyond everything the sound of his own voice. I couldn't wonder at that, for it was mellow and full and gave great importance to every word he uttered." 
And this, from Line of Sight, by David Whish-Wilson, about a lawyer's son who takes after Pop:
"The same class as Cooper [a lawyer] too, no doubt, western suburbs all the way. A consideration in the speaking; a pleasure in hearing the sound of your own voice. ... Cooper himself came from an old settler family, whose generations had increased their wealth and power despite bouts of bankruptcy and madness and the occasional imprisonment for fraud."
Bleak House is all about a legal case of infernal length and is thus full of gibes at lawyers and their profession:
"...that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar."
and
"This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means."
and
"I expect a judgment. Shortly. On the Day of Judgment."
I can pay Charles Dickens no higher compliment than to say that he gives lawyer jokes a good name. But, as advertisers like to say, it's all about you. What are your favorite fictional depictions of loud or self-important lawyers? How about your (least) favorite real-life loud or self-important lawyers?

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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39 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

We had to read Bleak House as the "preliminary reading" for law school, unfortunately I was too thick headed to see that the message of Bleak House is that the real enemies of civilization are the lawyers.

December 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, the idea being that "We lawyers, of course, are no longer like that"?

December 15, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

The law school I went to at Warwick University was a very progressive place full of old left wing 60s radicals, so I think the message was that the law was still like that and we should take every opportunity to drop it before it was too late...

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Dave Whish-Wilson said...

When Line of Sight was released, I was warned to expect some fallout (most likely a beating) from some of the old guard of bent coppers about the place, who might have (mistakenly) taken offence at my depiction of them, but I was more concerned about the attentions of a certain lawyer. Not sure what that says about Perth society...

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I majored in Theatre, spent a large chunk of my life in the acting biz, and I gotta admit -- I'm loud. I can't take offense. In fact, as the joke goes, "I resemble that remark!"

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, what other preliminary and collateral reading did they have you do? Sounds like an interesting place.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dave: Nor am I sure what that says about Perth society except that it's so far away from everything else that maybe people so inclined think it a good place to get away with misdeeds of all kinds.

Interesting, too, that you should be more scared of a certain lawyer than of cops. John McFetridge, whom I write about here from time to time (and whose novels I recommend highly) once said that police officers were the last non-college-educated heroes in crime fiction and television. Hmm, a number of interesting questions about police, lawyers, and Perth are coming to mind. Maybe I'll collect them for a future interview?

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, when a particularly loud group leaves my presence, I'll sometimes ask if they were lawyers, or actors, or whatever i thought they might be. I've been wrong about lawyers (they sometimes turn out to be cigar-smoking, finger-snapping blowhards from some other profession), but I don't think I've ever been wrong when guessing actors.

One time--in the bar where I'm typing this, as it happens--a loud group left, and I asked the waitress, "Are they--" and before I could finish, she said, "They're actors," and we both started laughing. The thing was, this group was talking about all Shakespeare and other interesting subjects. I'd have loved to listen in, but I wish they didn't talk like were projecting to the back row of the house all the time.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Dave Whish-Wilson said...

That's an interesting point, and was certainly the case back in the 70's when LOS is set (being non-college educated, I mean - the only qualification was that you needed to be six foot). Heroic, perhaps, also in the sense that in that context, crim and copper each came from the same neighbourhoods, and while those on the policing side had chosen one path, they were still part of the broader social fabric, and therefore less inclined to be moralistic etc. I once taught a poetry class for three years in our local max security men's prison here, and one guard (what we call a screw) made precisely this point - he said that if you stripped all the screws and crims down to their socks and stood them up against a wall, nobody would be able to tell which was which, what with the uniformity of scars and tattoos and thousand yard stares etc.
I'll look up McFetridge's work, and happy to oblige anytime with an interview...

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think McFetridge was making the point that crime fiction and other forms of popular entertainment (not to mention politicians in our common home town of Montreal) tend to neglect the working classes I'm thoroughly middle class, and I think he's probably right.

There used to be regular-guy, blue-collar crime protagonists on television, he said, but those have been replaced, he said, by whiz-bang forensic technicians.

His novels tend to depict a great variegated stew of a social milieu that includes cops and criminals of all kinds depicted with equal depth, understanding, and humo(u)r.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Dave Whish-Wilson said...

I've always admired Richard Price's novels for the same reason. I'll hunt out some McFetridge novels next. Thanks for the heads-up...

December 16, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Shakespeare had it right:



All:
God save your majesty!

Cade:
I thank you, good people—there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score, and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

Dick:
The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

Cade:
Nay, that I mean to do.

Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78

---------------------------------

No one has said it better.

During my time as a non-lawyer officer in the U.S. Navy's JAG Corps, I learned the Shakespeare was quite right.

Dickens, I think, cuts lawyers a bit of slack as _Bleak House_ continues and finishes. But you'll have to wait for that development.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, but...

December 16, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

It was good stuff actually: Bleak House, Plato's Republic, Kafka's The Trial, The Caine Mutiny...I enjoyed the preliminary reading list so much more than the following 3 years of law school...

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dave, I've hated Richard Price since I read his first novel, which I think he wrote when he was 24 years old. Maybe it's time for me to get over that jealousy and read some more of his work..."Clockers," perhaps.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I like to think that the school showed considerable faith in the intelligence and sensibilities of its future lawyers. That's quite a list. I'm not sure I thought seriously about anything when I was that age.

Who taught the course? And did the students take it seriously?

December 16, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Vogel may be right, but Shakespeare's own (and his family's) involvement with lawyers and courts suggest that there is room to believe that Shakespeare was not, in fact, overly fond of the legal system or its representatives.

It is a fool's gambit to decide which character does or does not speak for Shakespeare. I'm not saying Vogel is a fool. I am saying she might be right, or she might be wrong. The plays, after all, are not platforms for Shakespeare's points of view; they are performance pieces. He wrote for two purposes: (1) to make money; (2) to make more money.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

More in response to Vogel:

"In presenting this episode [i.e., the "kill all the lawyers" moment], Shakespeare took remarkable liberties with history, for not only did the historical York have nothing to do with Cade's rebellion, but the uprising itself is based in part on accounts of a different event, the Peasants' Rebellion of 1381, when there were attempts to destroy London Bridge and the Inns of Court. The proposal to kill the lawyers also dates from the earlier revolt, which was a much more anarchic and bloody affair than the one actually led by Cade." [Source: Shakespeare A to Z by Charles Boyce -- not a scholarly work but an encyclopedic collection of useful information from assorted, undocumented sources]

I offer this all as a way of saying again that (notwithstanding Vogel's view) we are always on thin ice when we impute characters' comments to Shakespeare's personal attitudes. The characters' attitudes belong to them and not to him.

Still, all that aside, the attitude about lawyers is both provocative and worthy of consideration.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

I have to say that I have three good friends here who are all lawyers, and none of them are blowhards. None of them are or were trial lawyers though, so maybe that's a distinction that should be noted. Also, they are all women. But another woman who I know less well, was a prosecuting attorney and is now a judge. She was probably a very loud trial lawyer, but in person, not anything like that.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Fictional hyperbole is the key. Fiction often depends upon stereotypes and hyperbole; otherwise, we are reading about everyday life, and how boring is that? In any case, we cannot and should not stereotype all lawyers. Or can we?

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I was attributing the sentiment to the character and not to Shakespeare. I'd to go read the play to be sure, but my understanding is that rebels want to usurp the throne, and they see one way to do so as inciting lawlessness by killing lawyers. That would cast lawyers in a more favorable light than people intend when they invoke the line.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I hope my friend Larry, one the softest-spoken and mildest-mannered individuals I know, does not read this post and think it's intended for him. I probably should have specified that I meant lawyers out drinking in groups with other lawyers.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

The thing I admire about my friends who are lawyers are the way they proceed in a rational logical way through some thorny problem. It's probably partly disposition, but it's got to also be training. They get to "the merits of the case" quite quickly.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Seanna, is this a chicken-or-egg issue? Does a lawyer think in a rational, order way because of training, or do people who think in rational, ordered ways find themselves drawn to that career choice?

I have know lawyers in the military who are among the most irrational, and disorderly people. So, I don't know if the generalization is applicable. Perhaps we should say that well-qualified, competent lawyers tend toward being rational and orderly in their thinking.

Of course, the other question remains: Is rational and orderly always a good idea? Sometimes we need a little Dionysus to balance our Apollo. Otherwise, we can be really boring.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Yes, I think it's probably a combination. Although I have to say that none of these friends would probably have chosen to be lawyers if they had it to do over again. They are probably all odd fits with the profession in one way or another.

I can at times be rational, but orderly? Never in a million years. Which is probably why I admire the trait.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana. you mount an eloquent defense of lawyers. So I'll concede that my animus toward their voices might more accurately be called a prejudice against cigar-smoking loudmouths to whom the whole world is a lockerroom or a giant humidor, the kind of people who say to a bartender: "Danny, Johnnie Walker Black Label. No, Blue. Which is the most expensive?" (a real quotation). In fact, at least one member of that group of late middle-aged men from the ___ Club is not a lawyer. On the other hand, I trembled one evening when I saw they had brought a much younger lawyer along on their evening wanderings, as if they wanted to inculcate a new generation in their boorish ways.

And now for a lawyer whose volume earned my admiration. I was at the bat-mitzvah of a friend's daughter, seated at a table with my friend's cousin, a lawyer. Some blaring disco-type song came blasting on the P.A. system just as our conversation had turned to bad writing. The cousin was just as heated on the subject as I am, and her voice, rising above the music, denouncing the semiliterate scribblings of her students, was a mighty and righteous trumpet for good.

My lawyer friend is good when discussing ways the court system ought to be reformed. And I may have mentioned the recently departed copy-desk intern from my newspaper who, realizing that newspapers are dispensing with copy editing on the way to their own death, said she hoped to use her writing and editing skills in law school.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., as always, I take a sensible middle course. Ideally, I would think, legal training reinforces tendencies already present in those attracted to the study lf law.

On the other hand, since I am a lifetime member of the professionally aspiring middle classes, I can assure you that some people are attracted to the study of law because they can'tt hink of anything else to do.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I should also express my admiration for the judge in a murder trial I once covered as a reporter who called all the reporters covering the trial into his chambers for a chat one day. He wanted to know what we were reading, and he expressed approval that I had a copy of Fowler's Modern English Usage with me.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

My friend the research attorney worked for many judges over her time with the courts and they definitely cover the spectrum of both virtues and flaws.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think that was the one trial I covered in my career, and certainly the longest. I was impressed with the judge and with both lawyers. I ran into the judge a few years later with his wife, also a judge, and he remembered me. A good man.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"...they definitely cover the spectrum of both virtues and flaws."

That sounds like a bit of Dickensiasn understatement, the beginning of a humorous memoir of the judges your friend has known.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

She should write it, but only under a psuedonym and with a lot of misdirection about some of their identities.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

She can write about judges under my name and I can write about newspapers under hers. That worked for Patricia Highsmith.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

As long as you don't both get the storylines mixed up and think you're supposed to murder someone.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, there are probably more judges in jail than reporters, so she'd feel more at home in the hoosegow than I would. Still, I would hope that neither of us would get sent up the river. Or to the Big House.

December 16, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

My favourite professor was a guy called Tom Hervey who had a very skeptical view of judges, lawyers and the law. One off hand remark he made in a seminar has stuck with me "the rules of evidence exist to prevent the jury ever hearing the complete truth".

December 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I read a remark somewhere, maybe around the time of some celebrity case or other, that one of the glories of the American legal system is that guarantees anyone with adequate means the right to an unfair trial.

I had O.J., Simpson in mind, and I am not making this up, but my verificaiton word is "nokilla/"

December 17, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

E. M. Forster said, “One always tends to overpraise a long book, because one has got through it. ”

When you get through Dickens' novel, will you be a bit like Forster (as I admit to having sometimes have been but not in the case of _Bleak House_)?

December 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here's an excerpt from "The Man Without Qualities" that makes one wonder whether the humorous Musil suspected the great length to which he would draw out the novel--and that it would remain unfinished:

"...once he had begun he did not stop, any more than a book can be finished before everything has been said that has to be said in it."

December 29, 2012  

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