Lawyer-novelists in Britain and the US

The case of the missing writers. America has John Grisham and Scott Turow. But why have so few British lawyers made it as novelists? Marcel Berlins investigates’ appeared in the Guardian on October 5 (via Isabella).

Berlins lists about 16 lawyer-authors and describes this as ‘few’. Why so few in Britain and so many in the USA? (For the US, see my earlier entry). But just a minute – why do lawyers have to write thrillers? I used to read a lot but reached saturation point. I found British ones less convincing, including Frances Fyfield, who is described as the best (but I probably read a very early one). I see one name is Nicola Williams, who I remember from a TV programme, ‘Called to the Bar’.

Berlins answers his own question as follows:

bq. To practise the law in Britain requires learning a new language, Lawspeak. It’s not just a question of knowing specific legal terms or jargon. The whole structure of a sentence changes. The tense is largely passive, long words are preferred to short ones and convoluted locutions are de rigueur. The trouble is that when lawyers then try to write fiction – in a voice understandable to the general reading public – they find it difficult to make the transition. It’s a problem many lawyers also have when they appear on television or radio. However knowledgeable they are on the subject, translating it from Lawspeak into ordinary speech is often beyond them.

I’m not convinced by this. American Lawspeak is just as odd as British. However, it may be a class thing. It’s easier to think of John Mortimer as a person who writes fiction about lawyers, and Rumpole has that slightly outdated touch that one doesn’t want to see many imitators of. The gulf between the way many barristers talk and the way their potential readers talk is a class gap. I think there’s a sense of a different world that’s different in kind from the sense of a different world you get in American fiction with lawyers in it.

A slightly different book is Lawrence Joseph’s ‘Lawyerland. What lawyers talk about when they talk about law’, published in the USA in 1997. On checking now, I am surprised to find it is to be filmed. It is a semi-fiction work, with eight composites representing lawyers of our day, talking about work, clients, lawyers, and the law.

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