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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Justice Kennedy on the Value of Law and Literature

Tonight I had the privilege of attending The Lawyers’ Club of San Francisco’s “Legends of the Law” dinner in honor of Justice Anthony Kennedy.  His speech was filled with a number of entertaining anecdotes, but there was one in particular that stood out in my mind.  At one point, Justice Kennedy was discussing how the law might allow a particular result, but that it might not be the “right” or “honorable” result.  He suggested that the “honorable” result is something that lawyers should endeavor to bring about. 

As an example of this principle, he described how when he was in private practice, he had a meeting with a client to discuss the client’s estate.  The client had three children, but instead of setting up a trust (Kennedy’s idea) the client wanted to leave all of the money to his eldest son, who he trusted to “take care of the rest.”  Despite various oblique suggestions, diplomatic hints, and other nudges, the client remained steadfast in his belief that this was the best way to handle the inheritance.  Finally, Justice Kennedy asked the client if he would be willing to read a book that would convince him that the trust would better fulfill his needs.  The client reluctantly agreed, thinking that he would be sentenced to time with a boring law book.  He was surprised when Kennedy handed him Shakespeare’s play “King Lear.”  Apparently, law and literature saved the day; the client changed his mind; presumably litigation over the estate was avoided. 

Posted by Miriam Cherry on October 18, 2006 at 02:51 AM in Law and Politics | Permalink


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There are a couple of very, very interesting posts over at PrawfsBlawg this morning. On the surface, they appear to be on wholly different subjects, but I see a common theme. First, Paul Horwitz has post on a speech given [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 18, 2006 12:46:43 PM


why am i not surprised that he resorted to *foreign* literature?

Posted by: andy | Oct 19, 2006 12:00:49 AM

Nowadays, Kennedy would probably have just rewritten the guy's will after he left the room and quoted King Lear in the will somewhere.

Posted by: notakennedyfan | Oct 18, 2006 2:42:22 PM

Some years ago Kennedy said that Kafka's novel The Trial 'was actually closer to reality than fantasy as far as the client's perception of the system. It's suppposed to be fantastic allegory but it's reality. It is very important that lawyers read and understand this.' (I quote this in my 2002 piece on Kafka in Law and Social Inquiry). One might think that this would make him decide cases in a way that is sympathetic to individuals as opposed to institutions who have more resources to navigate the system.

Posted by: Doug Litowitz | Oct 18, 2006 10:09:22 AM

I suppose this is quite a compelling case study. But one might prefer to "reason not the need" for law & lit, and see it as more of a cultural studies enterprise (ala Paul Kahn's Cultural Study of Law).

Posted by: Frank | Oct 18, 2006 8:24:24 AM

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