The novel-reading I did when a judge took a break seemed only a continuation of what I had done from the first grade, for I had been an avid reader from an early age. Even so, the mentor attorney who said read a good novel each week made me wonder if novel-reading could actually aid my professional career. I thought about conversations with the not-yet-spouse when I was in law school. She was in graduate school studying English literature, and her professors stressed the close reading of texts. Some of my law school professors recounted their conversations with those same English professors and how they discussed the similarities between the study of English and the law, both centering on the close reading of texts.
Law requires close reading. Judicial opinions are read carefully to extract the deciding principles to apply those principles to future legal disputes. Statutes and regulations and contracts have to be read carefully with the assumption that every word matters. However, I didn’t think that the mentor urging the reading of novels was referring to the similarity of the close reading of literary and legal texts. Instead, he was saying that because a trial concerned the human lives of witnesses, jurors, judges, and attorneys, the more the trial attorney understood human perceptions, reactions, motives—human psychology in general—the better the attorney could perform. As I became more experienced trying cases, I realized that he was right: The more I could understand others, the better I was in the courtroom.
Each of us, of course, learns human psychology from our own experiences, but the attorney was suggesting we needed to find ways to expand our knowledge about others beyond that gained from our firsthand observations and interactions. I found that I agreed with that.
The experienced attorney was telling us that one of the quickest and best ways to expand beyond our personal experiences was to read novels, for good novels often contain insights into human nature and behavior. Good novels imaginatively explore human behavior and psychology with sharp observations of manners and societies. Trials are always about human behavior, psychology, and societies, so reading the insights of great writers might help a trial attorney. On the other hand, I have known people who read much but remain clueless. I don’t know if novel-reading truly enlightens me or others, but I learned that trials tell stories and can make, change, rehabilitate, and destroy lives. Novel-reading certainly could not hurt a trial attorney, so, as a trial attorney, I continued to read novels. But I still did not read them while court was in session. And whether novels have aided me or not, I know that reading novels is more enjoyable than reading advance sheets.