I have not been working as diligently as I should on my legal haiku for this year’s ABA Ross Essay Contest.  I’ve spent about ten minutes on it, mostly trying to come up with the right image to convey.

Part of the problem is that I am not a fan of haiku in general, at least not as an English verse form.  English writers began trying to work with haiku in the mid-twentieth century and adopted the 5-7-5 syllable convention we still use today, even though it doesn’t really convey the effect of the form in Japanese.  Authentic Japanese haiku uses morae or on, which are phonetic sounds, not syllables.  A haiku in Japanese is therefore usually more stark than one in English.

Authentic haiku generally presents two vivid images superimposed against one another by means of a kireji, or cutting word.  The effect is sometimes that of a Zen-style koan, a concept Western-trained thinkers often struggle with.  We like things to fit together neatly and we like our loose ends tied up; we really don’t know what to do with the sound of one hand clapping, thank you very much.  Additionally, Japanese haiku employs a kigo, which is a word that corresponds with a season.  There is a long list of kigo: a certain word for rain signifies an autumn rain, for example, while another word means a summer rain and so on.  We simply don’t have that sort of rich linguistic tradition to draw on in English.

For these reasons, I believe the most successful English haiku are those that attempt the spirit of the haiku and ignore the 5-7-5 convention altogether.  Ezra Pound’s In a Station of the Metro is one famous example:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
 

The imagery of the petals pressed wetly against a knotted branch is the essence of springtime.  Contrast that with the “apparition” of the faces sliding by as a train enters or departs the station.  And Pound uses sound masterfully here: the “a” sounds in apparition, faces, petals and black; the “o” in crowd and bough; the “e” in these and petals.  I love this poem.  But it is not, technically speaking, English language haiku because of the 5-7-5 rule.

This one, by Richard Wright, respects the syllabic rule and works beautifully:

Whitecaps on the bay;
A broken signboard banging
In the April wind.

It doesn’t achieve the shift in perception or understanding that haiku generally strives for, though.

My initial efforts at writing a legal haiku have not been promising, to say the very least.  It’s hard to find a good, concrete image from something as abstract as law.  I thought I was on to something when I started playing around with Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.  I figured Stevens was a lawyer and a blackbird is a natural for haiku.  What I got down on paper was:

The lawyer-poet’s
Essential fallacy
Thirteen ways of looking
 
At a policy.

Awful.  I know.  It was going to be a series of haiku building on that theme.  I suspect my first mistake was the theme itself, which isn’t visceral enough for haiku, and my second was trying to force the rhyme.  So I’m going back to the drawing board, although I think I might have the bones for something else there.  A lyric, maybe.

In any event, I am feeling a little discouraged, and so I have taken up my dog-eared copy of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.  I turn to one of the passages I highlighted in college and note with a smile – every time, without fail – just how much the yellow has faded.  These are the lines I’m holding on to today:

Everything is gestation and then bringing forth.  To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating.

From Letters to a Young Poet, Ranier Maria Rilke (trans. M.D. Herter Norton) W.W. Norton & Co. (1962)

I believe I have the deep humility part down now, Herr Rilke.

His books packed neatly into boxes, Angus quietly closed the door of his office behind him. He was a little tired. It had been a long day. Old friends and people he hadn’t spoken to in ages had been stopping by to shake his hand and wish him well.

Now Angus tucked his worn leather briefcase into the trunk of his car and climbed behind the wheel. Time for a new adventure. He smiled. And drove.

. . . And drove and drove, for some days, stopping only when he had to. One warm September afternoon he arrived in a small Southern town. It seemed as good a place as any to grab a bite to eat and a newspaper. The townsfolk were friendly. Men tipped their hats to him as he walked by, and the coffee at the little restaurant he found was good and hot.

After his meal, Angus thought he’d walk around a bit and stretch his legs. As he started he heard a school bell ring and suddenly the street was filled with children rushing home. Angus noticed a girl walking along slowly, kicking a rock down the street. At least he thought she was a girl. She had close-cropped hair and looked a little rough around the edges. Still, it was clear something was wrong. So he called out hello and waved.

The girl kept walking, looking down at her feet. Angus thought she hadn’t heard him, so he called again, louder this time, and added, “I beg your pardon. I’m afraid I’m lost. Might you know the way to Mobile?” He didn’t paste on a phony smile or do any of the silly things grown-ups do talking to children. Angus knew better than to condescend to anyone.

The girl – and he could see her face now, and was sure it was a girl – looked up at him and blinked hard, whether due to the sun overhead or tears he wasn’t sure. She shielded her eyes with her hand but it was still so bright and hot that she squinted. So did he, as a matter of fact.

“I’m sorry, mister, I sure don’t,” she said. And now it was obvious, because he could see two tear trails on her cheek. Just two though. She wasn’t a crybaby.

“Is there anything wrong?” he asked. “Can I do something to help?”

She looked doubtful. “You know Miss Caroline Fisher? My teacher?”

“No, I’m afraid I don’t. I’m not from around here,” said Angus.

The girl gave him a hard look. “Well, I c’n tell that,” she said. “You don’t talk like us ’round here. But I never met Miss Caroline afore today either, so how’s I to know whether you know her or not?”

It was a valid point. Angus nodded.

“Anyway,” she said, “Miss Caroline says Atticus ain’t to teach me reading no more. When he ain’t never taught me anyways. I been reading for as long as I c’n remember.” Her face scrunched up just a little then, but she quickly regained her composure.

“Miss Caroline says I’m to tell Atticus not to teach me no more. And that he taught me wrong anyways. And I don’t want to tell him so.”

Angus thought he’d like a word with Miss Caroline sometime. But he also knew that the Miss Carolines never had any real power or say, once you got out of school and into the world. You could even feel sorry for all the Miss Carolines if the mood caught you right.

So he asked, “Who’s Atticus?”

“He’s my father.”

“I see,” he said. Angus thought for a bit. The girl waited in companionable silence.

“The first piece of advice I’m going to give you,” he said, “is to follow me over here, under the shade of this tree. There we are. Much better, don’t you think?”

She nodded very seriously.

“If you’re going to be giving advice on a hot day, you might just as well do it in the shade. Now. About the situation with your fa- with Atticus. Do you think he’ll be angry with you?”

“No.”

“With Miss Caroline?”

“No. Atticus don’t really get too angry.”

Angus thought he might like Atticus very much. It was a shame he couldn’t meet him.

“So what is it exactly you’re worried about, then?”

“I just don’t . . . I don’t want to say he done taught me wrong. It might hurt his feelings.”

Angus thought he liked this girl too. And that Atticus had done a fine job of teaching her, reading or not.

“Here is what I would suggest,” he said. “Go on home. Get yourself a little something to eat. Like standing in the shade instead of the sun, it’s better to do things when you’re not hungry than when you are. And when Atticus gets home, wait till he’s eaten supper, too, and had a rest. And then just tell him. I’m sure he’ll understand.”

The girl looked hopeful at first, then quickly doubtful.

“And how’n you know that, mister? You know Atticus?”

“I don’t,” said Angus, smiling. “But I know some like him, I think. And I believe he will understand.”

The girl nodded, and hugged her books close to her chest, and said, “I’d best be gettin’ home then.”

“Yes, I guess you’d better,” said Angus. He tipped his hat to her. “It has been a pleasure.”

And off she went. Angus walked on, hands in his pockets, whistling a little song.

. . .To be continued . . .

(with apologies to Miss Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, for borrowing Scout and Atticus here)

If you’re a lawyer who reads the ABA Journal, you know Angus.

I met him about twenty years ago, when my dad, who knew I was thinking about law school, gave me a subscription to the ABA Journal for Christmas one year.  It wasn’t the convertible I was hoping for, but ultimately I got a lot more mileage out of it.  (You like what I did there?)

This month Angus and his progenitor, Jim McElhaney, say good-bye after twenty-five years.  Wow.  That means I got in practically on the ground floor.

I have been wanting to pay tribute to Angus in my own small way, and because it seems to me that Angus has never had much of a life outside the little room from which he issues his wise words, I thought I would take him on a vacation.  In honor of his retirement, you see.  But Angus is a fictional character, and under the laws of physics and Strunk & White he can only travel to fictional locales.

I’m having fun with this.  I hope you do too.  And Professor McElhaney, if by some miracle of the Interwebs you ever get to read these, thanks.  It’s been twenty-five really good years.

Look for my first post tomorrow, wherein Angus will pay a visit to some fictional characters you will no doubt recognize.  More posts will follow for the rest of September.

Beannachd leat, Angus.

The Careerist blog currently features a photo of a woman in a cage to illustrate a post about why women don’t advance to ownership status in law firms.  

While I agree that women do not make up a fair percentage of the equity partner ranks, I disagree that flex time and diversity initiatives and increased mentoring are going to fix the problem.  The problem lies with the way firms are structured and with the way they make money.  It isn’t feasible economically to move women up if they aren’t billing what their male counterparts are.  This means that the solution is one of two things: either women, in large enough numbers, will make the sacrifices necessary to bill a lot, to form client relationships, and to ascend; or firms will find a way to profitably advance the interests of female associates.  The second option will require significant changes in law firm culture and business structure.  The fact that clients may insist that matters be diversely staffed is meaningless; businesses of all kinds have employed tokens for decades to head off gender and race issues. 

Internal change will occur when the billable hour makes way for alternative billing arrangements based on delivery of value, but that change will not be initially positive for women.  Firms will probably slough off associates by the hundreds, and that will affect women (and probably racial minorities) disproportionately.  There will probably be a few more Howreys.  Firms will need to become leaner and smaller, and the process will be painful.  I believe that the greatest hope for female advancement lies with the trend towards smaller, boutique firms, many of which will be founded by former BigLaw partners in the coming years.  These boutiques will feel downward pressure from clients to hire women, and it is much more difficult for smaller firms to “up and out” associates.  The cost of attrition is too high.  Women who perform well in those environments should expect to advance to ownership in good numbers. 

All of this assumes a smaller associate workforce, though, as orphans from the prior few years transition out of law entirely and as law school class sizes shrink.  The current associate workforce is not sustainable under an alternative fee system.  If class sizes remain stagnant – which they could, since student loans are non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, so lenders and schools have no real incentive to cut back – we stand to see a glut of youngish lawyers on the market competing for limited job opportunities.  That picture is not appealing from a diversity perspective.  Or any perspective, really. 

I think the legal industry is poised on the edge of a precipice.  The question is how Icarus-like we choose to be going forward.  Law schools must make employment statistics more transparent.  Applicants have a right to know that ten percent of a school’s “employed” grads are actually working as legal secretaries or worse.  Some sort of initiative must be taken to address the problem of outstanding student loans.  Unlike mortgages, student loans are not dischargeable; law graduates who might otherwise move to a more efficient employment market are unable to do so because of pressure to meet their loan payments.  The need to hire the best and brightest graduates, in turn, places pressure on firms to increase their hourly rates.  The whole system is fractured at its core.   And the one entity that could take a fairly effective crack at fixing it is in serious denial about the whole thing. 

If you agree, don’t pay your dues next year.  I don’t think I will be.

He says, as he hooks his thumbs around his suspenders, leans back, and moves his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other.  At least, that’s how I see the scene playing out, in a back room somewhere, just before the Kentucky Bar Association voted to constrain one lawyer’s free speech rights. 

According to the ABA Journal, United States District Court Judge Danny Reeves has ruled that a bar association may restrict otherwise constitutionally protected speech by an attorney if necessary to “uphold public confidence in the judiciary.”  This follows the decision of the Kentucky Bar to issue a warning to attorney John M. Berry, who wrote letters to Kentucky’s Legislative Ethics Commission alleging violations of fundraising rules. 

This has to be wrong.  I am no First Amendment expert, but this just has to be wrong.  Taken to its logical next step, lawyers can be banned from supporting political candidates, writing editorials for the local newspaper …. writing blogs.  Of course, whether this case gets appellate review depends on whether Berry can afford to continue financing it, or whether the ACLU gets on board (if they’re not already). 

I sincerely hope this gets reversed.  I’m not interested in becoming a mealy-mouthed milquetoast for the sake of my brethren at the bar.  And so long as Orly Taitz continues to represent to the public that she is an attorney, I shouldn’t have to.