Gerry Spence & the Art of Advocacy

Professor James R. Elkins College of Law | West Virginia University






Gerry Spence: "We must learn the rhythms of poetry in our arguments to the jury. We need to learn the composition of our speech that is found in song and verse." [Gerry Spence's Blog]

Gerry Spence, Gerry Spence's Wyoming: The Landscape: Photographs and Poetry (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000)

"The Wyoming I Knew"–a Gerry Spence poem, from Gerry Spence's Wyoming


"Most of the wealthy persons I know have, in the pursuit of the dollar, lost their ability to see value elsewhere. I cannot remember ever having met a wealthy man who was a poet. Most have not read a poem in thirty years." [Gerry Spence, Seven Simple Steps to Personal Freedom: A Handbook 121 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001)]

"The sense of the lawyer’s life as one of art suggests a spirit in which we might turn to literature, namely to find an array of texts that can help us see our own situation as artists more fully by comparison with others. The hope would be that we could discover opportunity for art in our life where now we see routine and at the same time develop a sense of what the possibilities for success might be. Comparison with other texts and discourses might expose the characteristics of legal discourse and yield a juster sense both of its limits and of its peculiar resources for meaningful talk and action. In this sense the comparison with literature, which at first may seem out re, could be seen as highly practical, for the aim of the comparison would be to improve our own capacities of mind and language in ways that can affect all that we do.

But the meaning of the humanities can go beyond even that, and in many different directions. Reading texts composed by other minds in other worlds can help us see more clearly (what is otherwise nearly invisible) the force and meaning of the habits of mind and language in which we shall in all likelihood remain unconscious unless led to perceive or imagine other worlds. We can thus learn to read humanistic texts with an eye to understanding: the language and culture in which they are composed; the art by which actors in he worlds defined by these languages (and the authors of texts written in them) struggle to come to terms with them; and the kind of ethical and political relations that speakers within the world of the text, and the author of the text in his writing of it, create with their respective interlocutors. In all three respects we can hope to find in them a ground for the criticism of our own world, of our own texts, and of our own relations with others." [James Boyd White, What Can a Lawyer Learn from Literature? (Book Review), 102 Harv. L. Rev. 2014, 2022 (1989)]

On Lawyer|Poets:

Strangers to Us All: Lawyers and Poetry (a website created by James R. Elkins)

Lawyers, Poets, and Poetry (a law school course on lawyers|poets|poetry)

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