In Lawyers’ Poker, I wrote that the best movie ever made about poker was The Hustler, in which there were no card games at all. As fans of Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason will recall, The Hustler was about a pool shark named Fast Eddie Felson. There is a scene in the film – in which Fast Eddie masterfully hustles a hapless bartender – that perfectly captures the essence of poker strategy: show weakness when your cards are strong and strength when your cards are weak, but not always.
Now I am writing to say that this year’s best book about legal practice has no lawyers in it at all. Life Drawing, Robin Black’s terrific new novel tells of the relationship between two artists – a painter and a novelist – and the ways in which they are simultaneously honest and deceptive toward one another. Along the way, Black raises profound issues of causation, culpability, intention, motive, foreseeability, harm, self-appraisal, recollection, and perception. Anyone who has ever examined a witness, or counseled a client, will recognize these matters as deeply relevant to law practice. Black explores them in the setting of a troubled marriage, but nearly all lawsuits, of course, begin with personal interactions of some sort or another. Life Drawing provides us with important insights regarding the ways in which people – and for our purposes, clients and witnesses – recount and explain their experiences, either reliably or otherwise.
Life Drawing is beautifully written and composed. Anyone who teaches Law and Literature (or in my case, Narrative Structures) would do well to add it to their syllabus. Everyone else will enjoy reading it for pleasure and enlightenment.