James R. elkins 

Editor James R. Elkins began law teaching at DePaul University in 1975, and joined the faculty at West Virginia University in 1977. He has held visiting appointments at the University of Kentucky, Washington & Lee, and in the Department of Legal Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Prof. Elkins’ teaching now focuses on the "turn to narrative" in legal education and the legal profession (lawyers and literature, lawyers and film, the lawyer as storyteller) and criminal law (courses that focus on jury instructions, reading trial transcripts, and crime film documentaries). In the story/narrative courses, he asks students to read literary texts and watch films and explore the broader meaning of their lives as lawyers.

Lawyer Poets and That World We Call Law is now available. Sure, you say, lawyers who are poets. How good could they be? I’m telling you, these are really strong poems. They are by lawyers and judges and they all deal with the law in one form or another. Order now for that lawyer in your life who has “everything” and who needs a good, unusual, thoughtful gift.

We have collected nearly two hundred poems by 43 different poets.

From the Foreword, by James R. Elkins:

There are poets and there are lawyers. We think of them as residents of different worlds. In the bright light of day, the work of the lawyer seems to have absolutely nothing to do with that of the poet. The poet returns the favor: there is little need to try to imagine what it is lawyers do and how they do it. Two worlds, different enterprises, different ways of putting language to use.

Then, lo and behold, we learn that lawyers, in numbers more than astounding, turn out to be poets. Our poets are lawyers! Yes, some of them scribble doggerel, visited by a grey-robed muse of sentiment and sanctimony. Then, a bigger surprise: a surprising number of lawyers turn out to be excellent poets, taking their place in a history that can be traced to the first arrival of lawyers in America.

Most of the lawyer poets represented in this anthology are practicing lawyers (and judges); a few abandoned the legal profession to take up teaching and literary work. Unlike most lawyer poets who do not, in their poetry, lay claim to being lawyers and maintain a wall of separation between law and poetry, the poets in this anthology have been unable to remain silent in their poetry about the world in which they work. The lawyer-poet who would disguise his tracks as a lawyer is one kind of poet. This anthology represents that rarer specimen, a poet who finds a place for the world of law in his poetry. For this rare species of poet-lawyer, there's simply no walking away, no pretended separation, no divorce, and no compartmentalization of the world of the poem and the world of law. The poet knows both worlds, and thus is borne—legal verse.

See a good review of the book by clicking here, and another one as follows:


Lawyer Poets and That World We Call Law

James R. Elkins ed., Pleasure Boat Studio 2013; 241 pages.

by Kate O'Neill*

James R. Elkins, a law & literature scholar and the founder and editor of Legal Studies Forum, has collected in this volume more than 100 poems by dozens of contemporary writers who think of themselves as both poets and lawyers and who chose to make poems about law or legal practice. I had some doubt that such a collection would have any particular value for literature or law, but to my pleasant surprise I found that it presents the most vivid descriptions of ordinary lawyers' and judges' daily work that I have ever read.1 If someone were to ask me now what lawyers do, I would say, "Read this book of poems; it will give you a deeper sense and a broader view than all the lawyer memoirs, biographies, TV shows, and movies combined:"

    The collection will reward those who read it straight through. The collection is more than the sum of its poems. Elkins has thoughtfully grouped the poems around eight themes, each named for a line from a poem: "A Lawyer's Education," "All in a Day's Work," "Those Who Come Our Way," "No Singing in the Courtroom," "What Logic There Is," "The Ravages of the Work," "Lawyers Do Grow Old," "Going Home" The progression through a career is obvious, but the effect is brilliant. I was

hooked by James McKenna's "Law School" the second poem in "A Lawyer's Education"—a short lyric that signals the onset of "thinking like a lawyer";

Late each night

at my desk, window dark,

cases were read and notes

taken, Ideas marched

by in the lamp's steady beam

until they seemed

shining, heedless armies,2

Farther on, in "The Ravages of the Work," I was mesmerized by Bruce Lahalt's elegiac "Widow's Weeds":

Home late again from the office, I fear—caught up again

In medical reports, or dog-eared childhood books,

Or other tomes on mortal man. Still, there is another hour

Of sunlight left us below the eastern Sierra foothills,

Before the shadows from the tallest peaks engulf.

Already a widow, I've'left you such,

Strong and alone on a solitary summer evening.

I stand unnoticed on the deck and watch,

And hesitate to hail from afar, to disturb,

To announce my already dwindling presence.3

In between there are poems in which prosecutors gun for predators; judges cast judgment and feel torn; silken-tied counsel preen and dine in Paris; and legal services lawyers struggle to keep the indigent, the demented, the battered, and the feckless housed somewhere other than jail. There are poems about having to tie your car door shut with string because your deadbeat clients don't pay you enough to fix your car;4 about being a forty-year-old, lonely, woman lawyer with one forty-year-old, lonely, woman-lawyer friend,5 There are wry poems about drafting ridiculous documents,6

There are funny poems:

The courtroom fills with exotic

beasts drinking from the cool waters,

Suddenly enters the litigator,

Trust and estate lawyers flee with gazelle-like hops.

Corporate lawyers freeze,

Sauber is on one in a flash,

briefs and pleadings around the throat,

the jugular neatly slit, gushing blood,

After several seconds of silence, the others

resume, warily, their refreshment.

The sounds of the jungle return,

They only eat, after all, what they kill,7

There are beautiful lyrics:

Nothing prepared me for life in the sky

in this narrowed concrete pencil which spires

toward a clouded underside,8



than talc

sifts down the

the long

afternoons in

waning light,9

& And there are horrifying lyrics:

"The dead infant/ is scalded white and

scarlet/ a horrible piebald fish,"10

In sum, I found this collection to be a wonderful work of legal humanism. As Tim Nolan's introduction explains, Elkins's collection aims to disrupt the stereotypes that cast poets and lawyers as different species, each of little interest or use to the other: the poet being sentimental, sensory, and impractical; the lawyer being cold, rational, and worldly11 The collection certainly succeeds at that, but the unstated message and the emotional effects of this collection are much grander. Many of these poems made tears well up. The most powerful poems convey what it feels like to work and to care, diligently but often futilely, for those who cannot or will not care for themselves or others. One lays down this book saddened, but clear-eyed—and curiously inspired by both lawyers and their poetry

1 Lawrence Joseph's Lawyerland: An Unguarded, Street-Level Look at Law & Lawyers Today (2004), is similarly vivid, but it is quite different, of course. It reports conversations with six lawyers, all practicing in New York. Elkins's poet-lawyers write of

many places and many kinds of practice.

2 James McKenna, "Law School/' in The Common Law (Moon Pie Press 2012), reprinted in Lawyer Poets and That World We

Call Law 21 (James R, Elkins ed,, 2013), In the Acknowledgments, Elkins notes that all of the poems in Lawyer Poets were

published in the journal, Legal Studies Forum, and are reprinted with permission of the authors. Elkins explains that many

poems were also previously published in other books and journals, which Elkins lists in the Acknowledgments. When Elkins

has provided them, I have included the small press publishers in these notes to help readers find 'the original sources.

3 Bruce Laxalt, "Widow's Weeds/in Songs of Mourning and Worship (Black Rock Press 2005), reprinted in Lawyer Poets,

supra n. 2, at 172.

4 Kristen Roedell, "Family Law," in Workers Write1, Tales from the Courtroom (Blue Cubicle Press 2011), reprinted in Lawyer

Poets, supra n. 2, at 52-54.

5 Nancy A, Henry, "Our Fortieth Year," in Any thing Can Happen (Muscle Head Press Chapbooks/Bone World Publishing

2002), reprinted in Lawyer Poets, supra n, 2, at 171,

6 Paul Homer, "Draft of Lease/' in Lawyer Poets, supra n, 2, at 144; John Charles Kleefield, "Boilerplate," in. Lawyer Poets,

supra n, 2, at 153,

7 Steven M, Richman, "Safari/' in. Lawyer Poets, supra n, 2, at 164,

8 Greg McBride, "An Office with a View," in Lawyer Poets, supra n. 2, at 150.

9 James Clarke, "There are Courtrooms," in Lawyer Poets, supra n, 2, at 126.

10 Nancy A. Henry, "Baby's First Bath" in Anything Can Happen (Muscle Head Press Chapbooks/Bone World Publishing

2002), reprinted in Lawyer Poets, supra n. 2, at 170, 11 Tim Nolan, "Lawyer Poets and the Practice of Law," in Lawyer Poets, supra n. 2, at 15—18. For more information about

Elkins' project, see James R, Elkins, Strangers to Us All: Lawyers and Poetry, http://myweb,wvnet,edu/^jelkins/lp-2001/intro/

(accessed April 9,2014).

Interview with James Elkins, editor of Lawyer Poets and That World We Call Law. Click here.


Some Sample Poems:

White Shirt

David Bristol

Blue, pink, ecru,

stripes narrow and bold, red and green,

now waking, wanting a white shirt.

Quiet and simple,

shunned for lack of style, color.

The simple is sought,

sparse and absolute to wear for the day.

Clean, white, lightly starched

and unremarkable,

a modest gesture of presentment.

Step plainly, showing a humble color,

out of the house


The Rules of Evidence

Lee Robinson

What you want to say most

is inadmissible.

Say it anyway.

Say it again.

What they tell you is irrelevant

can’t be denied and will

eventually be heard.

Every question

is a leading question.

Ask it anyway, then expect

what you won’t get.

There is no such thing

as the original

so you’ll have to make do

with a reasonable facsimile.

The history of the world

is hearsay. Hear it.

The whole truth

is unspeakable

and nothing but the truth

is a lie.

I swear this.

My oath is a kiss.

I swear

by everything


Midnight at the Law Firm

Laura Chalar

The carpet stretches itself

like a long skin. Under the round

throbbing of a lamp

your hand signs papers

no one will read. Rows of names wait

inside the computers’ wombs

while their owners, warm

in their beds, dream contracts.

Outside the frost creeps up; here

a siege of books is thickening,

as ready to defend you

as to never let you go.

The blue wind in the square

will come to erase your eyes

when you leave. For now, you are

guarded by the silent bivouac

of a hundred phones; sleeping

on the other side of air

is the place where your dinner

year after year gets colder.