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How Lawyers Lose Their Way: A Profession Fails Its Creative Minds

How Lawyers Lose Their Way: A Profession Fails Its Creative Minds

by Jean Stefancic

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In this penetrating book, Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado use historical investigation and critical analysis to diagnose the cause of the pervasive unhappiness among practicing lawyers. Most previous writers have blamed the high rate of burnout, depression, divorce, and drug and alcohol dependency among these highly paid professionals on the narrow specialization,


In this penetrating book, Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado use historical investigation and critical analysis to diagnose the cause of the pervasive unhappiness among practicing lawyers. Most previous writers have blamed the high rate of burnout, depression, divorce, and drug and alcohol dependency among these highly paid professionals on the narrow specialization, long hours, and intense pressures of modern legal practice. Stefancic and Delgado argue that these professional demands are only symptoms of a deeper problem: the way lawyers are taught to think and reason. They show how legal education and practice have been rendered arid and dull by formalism, a way of thinking that values precedent and doctrine above all, exalting consistency over ambiguity, rationality over emotion, and rules over social context and narrative.

Stefancic and Delgado dramatize the plight of modern lawyers by exploring the unlikely friendship between Archibald MacLeish, who gave up a successful but unsatisfying law career to pursue his literary yearnings, and Ezra Pound. Reading the forty-year correspondence between MacLeish and Pound, Stefancic and Delgado draw lessons about the difficulties of attorneys trapped in worlds that give them power, prestige, and affluence but not personal satisfaction, much less creative fulfillment. Long after Pound had embraced fascism, descended into lunacy, and been institutionalized, MacLeish took up his old mentor’s cause, turning his own lack of fulfillment with the law into a meaningful crusade and ultimately securing Pound’s release from St. Elizabeths Hospital. Drawing on MacLeish’s story, Stefancic and Delgado contend that literature, public interest work, and critical legal theory offer tools to contemporary attorneys for finding meaning and overcoming professional dissatisfaction.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado offer an innovative approach to integrating a great career in the law with an examined, moral life. The authors make profound connections between law and literature, scholarship and practice, and the personal and the political. The book is an exciting combination of a self-help manual and cutting-edge scholarship. Stefancic and Delgado write with the insight and creativity that they will certainly inspire in lawyers and others who choose careers hoping both to live well and to do some good in this world.”—Paul Butler, George Washington University Law School

“Through the correspondence between the poet-lawyer-statesman Archibald MacLeish and the poet–modernist master Ezra Pound, Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado brilliantly give expression to one of American law’s central metaphors: our lawyers who have lost their way.”—Lawrence Joseph, St. John’s University School of Law and author of Before Our Eyes, a book of poetry

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Duke University Press
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How Lawyers Lose Their Way


Duke University Press

Copyright © 2005 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3563-4

Chapter One

The Caged Panther


It was a fine spring day in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but inside the dark-paneled study of the famous professor the scene approached bedlam. The goateed, red-maned visitor, a distinguished poet and émigré who had returned to the United States to receive an honorary degree from his alma mater, was entertaining a rapt but skeptical audience of Harvard faculty. Waving his arms, his voice rising and falling, he was holding forth on farfetched economic and racial theories many removes from his field of competence. A few of the listeners looked intrigued; several contemptuous. They shot question after question at the visitor, hoping to catch him off guard. Undeterred, he pressed on, his countenance taking on the aspect of a madman.

Partway through the proceedings, a tall, distinguished-looking gentleman with a patrician brow shook his head, muttered something under his breath, and stalked out.

Though Ezra Pound was born in Idaho in 1885, his family moved east when he was two years old, settling in Philadelphia, where his father took a position as assayer at the U.S. Mint. Later, Pound vividly recalled seeing his father weigh aman's signature written in gold and watching workers shovel gold coins into counting machines. The only child of parents with aristocratic pretensions-his paternal grandfather had been a lieutenant governor and U.S. congressman from Wisconsin, while his mother was related to the poet Longfellow-Pound readily absorbed the prejudices of his family and their middle-class friends. Writing of his boyhood, he described waves of immigrants "sweeping along Eighth Avenue in the splendor of their vigorous unwashed animality."

Pound enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania at fifteen, already knowing that he wanted to be a poet. Unfortunately, he also went to great lengths to act like one, affecting flagrantly unconventional manners and dress. His indifferent academic performance, strange ways, and self-absorption put off his classmates, some of whom threw him into a campus pond. An attempt at pledging a fraternity ended predictably in disaster. Disappointed with his reception, Pound transferred to Hamilton College in his third year, graduated in 1905, and returned to Penn for his master's degree. By that time he had taught himself eight languages and met William Carlos Williams and Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), both of whom became major American poets and remained his friends for life.

A short-lived teaching career ended badly. Pound's unorthodox ideas, flamboyant appearance, and sexual adventuring scandalized the community at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and made it necessary for him to leave after a scant four months. With financial support from his father, he sailed for Venice in 1908, then moved to England where he made his way into the bohemian literary scene of London. There, in less than two years, Pound published four collections of poetry of such striking originality that continental reviewers heralded the arrival of a new genius. Invited to lecture at London Polytechnic Institute, he also received an appointment as foreign correspondent for Poetry magazine. At this time English and American poetry was full of sentimentality and moral didacticism. Pound set out to reform it.

A return visit to the United States in 1910 brought nothing but disappointment. Pound's writing received mixed reviews and he could find little work. Even an attempt to set up a business selling an anti-syphilitic drug proved a failure. Returning to London the following year, he soon became a fixture at literary gatherings, often wearing sombreros, earrings, capes, masks, and other dramatic garb. Young poets flocked to him, receiving encouragement, praise, and the advice to write simply and in their own voices. He met and influenced a host of writers who went on to become major figures, including T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Rabindranath Tagore, and William Butler Yeats, with whom he shared an interest in mysticism and the conviction that creativity was linked to sexual energy.

Pound's persona at this time was unabashedly bohemian. He despised convention and when bored, for example at a dinner party, would eat the flowers of a table setting. But when excited, he would lean forward and gesticulate so energetically that the chair on which he was sitting would strain or break. A novelist who met Pound in London described him as a "tall, slight nervous young fellow, with the face of a scholarly satyr, and a pointed beard of the same [red] color," who "endangered every chair he sat on" and devoured enormous quantities of food. A reviewer in the New Age saw a "rebel against all conventions except sanity; there is something robustly impish about him. He writes with fresh beauty and vigour ... revolting against a crepuscular spirit in modern poetry."

Pound began translating Chinese and Japanese poetry when he agreed to edit the notebooks of Ernest Fenollosa, one of the first westerners to recognize and celebrate Asian literary traditions. Among Pound's greatest achievements, according to MacLeish, may have been including Fenollosa's famous essay "The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry" in the back pages of his own Instigations, after a number of unsuccessful attempts to publish it in literary journals. Pound became the acknowledged architect of modern poetry, dismantling the ornate language of the Victorian tradition and replacing it with sharp images, precise words, and metrical variation. As one critic put it, "Perfection was what he was after, to convey 'an exact impression of exactly what one means in such a way as to exhilarate ... Technique is the only gauge and test of a man's lasting sincerity.'" His own objectives in writing he described as "1. To paint the thing as I see it. 2. Beauty. 3. Freedom from didacticism." And, 4. To build on the work of others. "An image," he wrote, "is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant in time." His poem In a Station of the Metro, for example, uses a mere fourteen words to convey his impression of a Parisian subway platform:

The apparition of these faces in a crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough.

Or consider these lines, describing the loss of a loved one, translated from the Chinese poet Liu Ch'e':

There is no sound of foot-fall, and the leaves Scurry into heaps and lie still, And she the rejoicer of the heart is beneath them: A wet leaf that clings to the threshold.

Or these, satirizing the Middle English poem "Sumer is icumen in":

Winter is icummen in, Lhude sing Goddamm, Raineth drop and staineth slop, And how the wind doth ramm! Sing: Goddamm

Pound wrote prodigiously, his output including reviews of literature, music, and art, and his fame soon spread throughout the world, yet his income was barely enough for his needs and he was obliged to accept money from his family and patrons. (At one point, he even considered selling his boots.) This apparently did not much bother him, for when he had more than he needed, he gave it away to writers more needy than he.

Devastated by the First World War, London ceased to be a hub of literary innovation. So Pound left for Paris, where he continued to write and support aspiring writers, artists, and musicians. The city was familiar to him; he had been there regularly since before the war and had met a number of older French writers of the Symbolist school. Unlike many of the American émigrés who followed and did not immerse themselves in the culture or even learn the language, Pound did. (Archibald MacLeish, who was to come later, did so as well.)

Pound and Gertrude Stein became slightly antagonistic centers of literary ferment for the crowd of émigrés that was then gathering. He gave freely of his advice and assistance. Believing that technique could be taught, he wrote forcefully and openly about his own creative process and his approach to writing. As one critic put it, "For this reason, other men accepted him as their teacher, and men of strong, original talent-Yeats, Eliot, Joyce-were willing to listen to his instructions." Those instructions included his famous exhortations: "It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works," "Use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something," and "Go in fear of abstractions." He raised money for Eliot and edited The Waste Land. He helped Hemingway to hone his clean prose style and befriended James Joyce, even sending him a pair of used but sturdy brown shoes. His own work, consisting largely of a series of "Cantos," was highly original; yet even that early work betrays a dark side, containing scattered disparagements of banks, usury, and Jews. Earlier in London, Pound had met Clifford Douglas, a British engineer who had become intrigued by the way in which during peacetime, when capacity for production was high, ordinary citizens lacked enough money to purchase necessities. Yet in wartime, there seemed to be enough money for everything. In his book Economic Democracy (1920), which Pound reviewed favorably, Douglas argued that individuals should only be paid for labor that resulted in a product-goods, food, works of art. But no one should be permitted to make money from money-that is, from rents, investments, interest, or dividends. This practice, which he called usury, was the source of most of England's ills because it allowed a small group to control the economy and money supply.

Poor and acutely aware of the poverty of other artists, Pound fell under the influence of Douglas and his "social credit" theory. Though not himself a fascist, Douglas had incorporated into his work ideas from The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. That anonymous book professed to expose a secret plan by which Jews would take over the world economy by gaining control of banking, the press, and business. Biased since childhood against foreigners, blacks, and Jews, Pound's mind seized on Douglas's views; the crash of 1929 only confirmed them. Later, when he learned that Benito Mussolini had freed the Italian monetary system from international banking, his admiration knew no bounds.

With their move to Italy in 1925, Pound and his wife Dorothy became even more isolated from American thought and his economic and political ideas increasingly extreme. He also became more critical of the United States, especially the "passport nuisance" (because he traveled a great deal), U.S. copyright laws (because of the Ulysses affair), and article 211 of the U.S. Penal Code (because of its definition of obscenity). He dabbled in strange educational theories, just as earlier he had succumbed to crackpot notions such as vorticism, and wrote the scenario for a movie praising fascism. He also requested an audience with Mussolini in 1932, and after speaking briefly with him became a devoted follower. His book Jefferson and/or Mussolini, rejected by forty publishers before its issue in 1935, argued that the two leaders were strikingly similar. Its last line was: "Towards which I assert again my own firm belief that the Duce will stand not with despots and the lovers of power but with the lovers of ORDER." Like MacLeish, Pound was also a devoted follower and admirer of Jefferson. Pound wrote hundreds of letters preaching monetary reform to newspapers, magazines, and public figures, including President Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Huey Long, Father Charles Coughlin, and even the mystery writer Dorothy Sayers. "I personally know of no social evil that cannot be cured, or very largely cured, economically," he wrote. At one stage, Pound even attempted to combine the doctrines of Mussolini and Lenin in a grand synthesis of economic doctrine. He was not successful in persuading others of this pairing. He may have been more successful in persuading them that "the effects of social [and economic] evil show first in the arts."

Pound began employing dialect, odd punctuation, and peculiar abbreviations-eccentricities that when combined with his increasingly extreme political views made friends suspect that he had become unhinged. Their concerns deepened when Pound returned to the United States in 1939 to promote his theories, accept an honorary degree from his alma mater, Hamilton College, and seek a position in the U.S. government. Of course, no one took him seriously. He sought an interview with President Roosevelt, but was shunted o to Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace. MacLeish, who met him during this time at a gathering at Harvard and was soon to praise him in the Atlantic Monthly as the first modern poet and a hater of rhetoric and overblown language, was so distressed that he left the room.

Stung a second time, Pound returned to Italy, where he recorded a series of vitriolic radio broadcasts-125 in all-extolling fascism and Mussolini's government. Because Roosevelt had not reformed the banking system as Mussolini had, according to Pound, he was in league with the Jews, who were promoting the war effort for their own gain. In one of these broadcasts, Pound accused Archibald MacLeish, who was then serving as director of the Office of Facts and Figures (the government propaganda office during the Second World War), of filing "a gangster's brief": "I [ask] Archie to say openly why he handed out four billion dollars in excess profits ... between 1932 and 1940 ... to a dirty gang of kikes and hyper-kikes on the London gold exchange firms. Why is that expected to help America? ... Had you the sense to eliminate Roosevelt and his Jews ... at the last election, you would not now be at war."

Of course, MacLeish had done no such thing, though he had served as a writer for Fortune magazine during that period. Despite Pound's tone of outraged betrayal, he and MacLeish had met face to face only once in recent years, during Pound's return visit to the United States in 1939, and perhaps briefly in Paris during MacLeish's period there. They knew each other mainly through mutual friends and correspondence regarding MacLeish's poetry, which Pound had excoriated ("You understand I am putting on the heavy hammer; if I don't, the criticism is of no use, and we get off into mere conversation and politesse.... Am saying all the unpleasant things I can. Otherwise no use in writing.").

Because of his Italian radio broadcasts, Pound was indicted in absentia in the District of Columbia for treason in July 1943. After Mussolini fled in the face of the Allied advance, Pound continued broadcasting and writing in Italian newspapers. Italian partisans arrested him in May 1945 and transferred him to the U.S. military authorities in Pisa, where he was imprisoned in a reinforced steel "gorilla cage," on display by day and illuminated by spotlight at night. He was returned to the United States in November 1945, a broken man. At his preliminary arraignment, Pound told the judge that he wanted Archibald MacLeish to testify for him at his trial and that he had met him earlier, but to no avail. He also insisted that he had never meant to hurt the American cause, but merely wanted to educate the American people. A few months later, in a courthouse in Washington, after hearing testimony by four psychiatrists, a jury deliberated for only three minutes before finding Pound to be of unsound mind. He was remanded to St. Elizabeths Hospital for the Criminally Insane until he could be restored to sanity.

During his years of incarceration, Pound received a steady stream of visitors, including old friends, sycophants, racists, and members of the lunatic fringe. He wrote The Pisan Cantos, based on his Italian confinement, which won the Bollingen Prize in 1949. At first, there was little incentive to resolve his situation. His actions had incensed opinion makers and stirred public sentiment against him. Yet at the same time, he lived well at government expense. The chief psychiatrist at St. Elizabeths, Dr. Winfred Overholser, took pride and pleasure in his famous patient, seeing to it that he had everything he needed for his work. The 1950s dragged on; McCarthyism came and went; but Pound was still impounded. There was little pressure to release him.


Excerpted from How Lawyers Lose Their Way by JEAN STEFANCIC RICHARD DELGADO Copyright © 2005 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Jean Stefancic is Research Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where both are Derrick Bell Fellows. Stefancic and Richard Delgado have written and edited numerous books together, including Understanding Words that Wound, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, and No Mercy: How Conservative Think Tanks and Foundations Changed America’s Social Agenda.

Richard Delgado is Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where both are Derrick Bell Fellows. Among Delgado’s books are When Equality Ends: Stories about Race and Resistance and The Rodrigo Chronicles: Conversations about America and Race, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

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