ABOUT THE SCRIVENER'S QUILL
Reforming and strengthening legal education through a study of the humanities
Scrivener: noun historical: a clerk, scribe, or notary.
In Vermont, 2012, Stephen Saltonstall, a local attorney and Harvard Law School graduate, introduced me to the wonderful short story, Bartleby the Scrivener, in which a scrivener for an attorney "prefers not to" until he eventually dies. It is a wonderful commentary on life and asks questions about the culture of law and those who find themselves associated with it. Since Saltonstall introduced me to the story, the word "Scrivener" stuck in my mind, not only because it is a unique word to say, but because it seemed loaded with history, imagery, and potential.
The "Quill" portion of the name originates from a conversation with James Elkin of West Virginia University College of Law. He edits and produces The Legal Studies Forum. This journal is a collection of literary and creative writings by lawyers. As he and I discussed what an entity might look like, be named, and attract, he was eager to promote lawyers as writers of poetry, plays, fiction, and other creative writings. I agreed with this premise for the new entity.
The subtext of the entity's name is "A Center for Lawyers and Literature." I don't think a more perfect symbol of writing throughout time could be better than the quill.
Literature is powerful! If we look at its affect on law, we can pick a few books as an example to see the tremendous influence of literature on law:
Uncle Tom's Cabin – prompted Abraham Lincoln to say to Harriet Beecher Stowe: ”So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!"
The Bible - foundation for contracts, probate, penal, divorce, and other laws.
To Kill a Mockingbird - one of many catalysts of the Civil Rights Movement, personally responsible for the rise in the number of lawyers or the decision to go to law school, and rivals the Bible in sales every year.
Mien Kampf - (Not all examples are positive) - inspired a nation while also justifying the extermination of millions of individuals.
One can also look at literary and cultural movements to see sees for future changes in the law. Vaughn Carney, Harvard Law School graduate, lawyer, and a former law professor, provided an excellent presentation on the Harlem Renaissance and its stimulus for the Civil Rights Movement and such legal cases as Brown v. Board of Education.
I have found personal enjoyment working with Shakespeare, Ray Bradbury, John Steinbeck, Jane Austen, Kate DiCamillo, Harper Lee, George Bernard Shaw, Richard Peck, P. L. Travers, Arthur Miller, Mary Shelly, Victor Hugo, Isaac Asimov, Leo Tolstoy and other insightful and amazing authors to explore their writings in relation to the study and practice of law.
The Model Rules of Professional Conduct provides this challenge in the Preamble:
“As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law and work to strengthen legal education.”
I am not aware of a better source of instruction to lawyers relating to the law “beyond its use to clients” than to see how the law interacts with individuals in creative writing. Though often fictional, it is a perfect reflection of the world in which we live.
Judge J. Gordon Low, the first presenter to expose me to the idea literature, law, and attorneys as wordsmiths, indicates that in law school one really only learns one word, “reasonableness.” He argues that great literature address the concept of reasonableness more directly than other.
So, I invite all members of the legal community to participate in and with the Scrivener’s Quill. If you write, read, present, study, or just enjoy creative writings in the broadest sense, including film, lyrics, fiction, poetry, haiku, plays, nonfiction, essays, and the concept of the “story” in general, you are welcome, and I would truly appreciate the opportunity to associate with you.
Travis Marker, JD, LLM
Chair & CEO
“This was an excellent survey of foundation material that informs all areas of our legal system and relationships among participants! Outstanding job here in selection of presentations.” Atlanta, 2015.
"One of the best CLE's I've attended in 30 years." Fayetteville, NC, 2016.
“The courses were all thought provoking and interesting. The presenters were all engaging – Bravo! This was a practical yet enjoyable way of meeting this year’s CLE requirement.” New Orleans, 2016.
"Fascinating course - I am inspired to read some of the classics again." Houston, 2014.