There are also commonalities in the nature of the relationship between lawyers/writers and their clients/readers. That is, the very relationships that are the source of their incomes. Just as there is a contract between a lawyer and her client, there is an implied contract between an author and her reader. A client expects a lawyer to handle their narrative situation. A contract is formed when the client pays the consideration of a retainer or fee. Similarly, be it fiction or nonfiction, a reader expects the author to handle and deliver a story. Arguably, a contract is formed when the reader buys a book. Arguably, a contract is formed when any reader, not just the book purchaser, opens a book and puts their trust in the author to spin a story. If you open my book and fall asleep after two pages, I probably have not upheld my writer-end of the contract. I haven’t delivered the goods.
And, finally, lawyers and writers provide checks and balances on each other. Through stories, writers remind lawyers that they could be as upstanding as Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch (“upstanding” in the way he is generally viewed to be in To Kill a Mockingbird as opposed to recent deconstructions and his portrayal in Go Set a Watchman) or as vile as Charles Dickens’ Mr. Vholes (the name says it all). Writers create works that warn lawyers that if they don’t take care of the institution of law they could produce folly or unfairness or worse. The term kafka-esque would not have arisen without a writer (and, as it happens, an insurance lawyer) named Franz Kafka.Lawyers provide assistance and legal balance for writers. Most writers can’t afford a lawyer but, when a situation goes really bad, who you gonna call? Maybe a publisher or a writing organization who calls a lawyer on your behalf? Maybe a friend of friend of a guy who used to date your neighbor is a lawyer who feels the need to address copyright breaches, disappearing publishers, libel suits, and the Will your famous writer-spouse forgot to draw up? When they are available and affordable, lawyers can be useful. And at the highest level of the law, the union between lawyers and writers is forever sealed because lawyers are integral to maintaining that key Charter right for writers: freedom of expression.
Back to the crap closet and my law degree. I decide to keep the iron, thinking I will try a few sessions with it but feeling pretty sure that I don’t own enough iron-able clothes to make it a serious pastime. I fill a garbage bag with fossilized runners, hazy swim goggles, and all the other items that will never be used or re-used by anyone, and I drive to the local dump. Among the things I toss in? My law degree. I never missed it when it was in the closet and it’s just too big for where I’m headed. I don’t know if I “get” what I am doing now, or if I am better at it than I would have been as a lawyer, but I do know that I am enjoying the direction. I have no regrets about getting that degree and no regrets about dumping the physical representation of it.
A few more differences between a dead skunk and this lapsed lawyer? Okay, one of them is alive. And that one is still smiling, not at the dead skunk or at a joke, but at how things have a way of working out over time.
Barb Howard is the author of the short story collection Western Taxidermy which was a finalist at the High Plains Book Awards and a winner of the Canadian Authors Association Exporting Alberta Award. She has won the Howard O'Hagan Award for short story, published three novels, and is currently writing, at a snail’s pace, a book about law and literature. Barb lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. www.barbhoward.ca