Friday, February 15, 2013

Muse of Fire

One of my lovely former students, Brian Peterson, was recently invited to blog for Ms. JD about a presentation given by the current ABA President, Laurel Bellows. He seized the opportunity with gusto: His contribution has already secured him an invitation to blog again. When Brian was sharing this good news with me, he asked if I had noticed how he had used the opening of Henry V to help him frame his introduction. How bizarre that a person such as myself should fail to notice such I thing! But when I looked again, the allusions to that play’s famous Prologue were unmistakable. For instance, Brian describes the blog as “an unworthy scaffold to bring forth so great a presentation” and entreats readers to put their “imaginary forces to work.” He then sets the stage, just as the "Chorus" does in the Prologue to the Bard’s most rousing history play, which begins:

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object[.]

What Brian does not know is that I have written a book about legal writing called Muse of Fire, whose title is an allusion to this same speech. That book has yet to see the light of day, so there is no reason why he (or most anyone else) would know about it. Nor does he know that a question he asked me back when he was a One-L inspired one of the chapters. That chapter is about accepting the limited leeway lawyers have—especially non-famous lawyers—to indulge in stylistic innovation when they write legal documents. Just as Shakespearean actors in Elizabethan times had only a handful of devices at their disposal, the legal writer has to find ways to be creative within a very narrow range of acceptable options. Yet just like the Chorus in Henry V, lawyers need to commit to doing their utmost to make their dry legal arguments or explain their complex factual predicates so that they seem vivid and accessible to a busy, harried reader. And unlike the Chorus, legal writers cannot ask their audience to “[p]iece out our imperfections with your thoughts” or read with “humble patience.” If legal writers hope to see their work “kindly judged,” they have to do most of the heavy lifting themselves.

In any event, big congrats, Brian, on an excellent job inducing his readers to “gently hear” all that he has to say!

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