Mutual attraction

The romance of law makes Legal Fictions smart summer reading, says Roger Trapp

Move over, John Grisham and Scott Turow. This summer's smart beach reading among the legal fraternity could well be Legal Fictions, an anthology of "short stories about lawyers and the law".

Since they are producers of doorstep-sized works, there is no room for those lawyers-turned-thriller writers Messrs Grisham and Turow. But their absence is more than made up for by such names as Isabel Allende, Graham Greene, Nadine Gordimer, Margaret Atwood, Garrison Keillor, Herman Melville, Franz Kafka and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Such a list clearly sets this volume apart from most other collections. But to be fair, as the editor, Jay Wishingrad - a lawyer himself - admits, the criteria for inclusion are fairly broad. "Legal Fictions purposely extends the very loose and ever-expanding boundaries of the field of law and literature to encompass many stories where there may be little or no law, but a lawyer is the protagonist," he writes in his introduction.

But then it would appear that the lawyer-as-character is rather more interesting to Mr Wishingrad than the law-as-subject. After all, it gives him the opportunity to discuss the differences between lawyers in the 19th century - as described by Melville - and those in the 20th, as well as the different viewpoints of "young lawyers, junior partners, senior partners and name partners", not to mention the differences between those in corporate firms and those like Margaret Atwood's female lawyer who finds that the "kind of woman she represented never had money".

But while many of the contributors are stars of the international writing firmament, there are a few genuine lawyers among them. Britain's John Mortimer is naturally represented by Rumpole, while Louis Auchincloss, former partner in an old Wall Street firm, merits two inclusions.

And this very fact gets to the heart of Mr Wishingrad's point that there is something about the law that attracts writers and something about writing that attracts lawyers. This is partly, he suggests, because the short story "is in many ways akin to the so-called 'fact statement' in a legal brief - a lawyer's written argument to the court on a client's behalf".

Be that as it may, as a lawyer might say, there might also be something in the fact that both callings - even nowadays - have a fair degree of romance attached to them. With a little imagination, it is possible to believe that you are dealing with important issues on a regular basis. And it is surely no accident that Hollywood maintains an enduring fascination with the law, and with courts in particular.

And if you think that is fanciful, try assessing the chances of getting a publisher for a book of short stories about any other profession apart from medicine. Talking of which, any takers for a similar volume based on accountancy? I can think of a story called The Accountant by the acclaimed American novelist Ethan Canin, but are there any others? Answers on a postcard.

'Legal Fictions', edited by Jay Wishingrad, is published by Quartet Books, price pounds 10.

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