Simon Stern


When lawyers are not being villainized in popular culture, they are often portrayed as having many of the same admirable traits as a shrewd detective. If this characterization conforms to an image that some lawyers embrace, it also speaks to a frequently rehearsed analogy in the literature on legal education and reasoning. Legal forms of explanation, pedagogy, and analysis invite comparison with detective stories for many reasons. Some commentators focus on the shared sense of inevitability in the whodunit and in the written opinion. On this view, the judicial habit of slowly working up to a seemingly inexorable conclusion resembles the detective story's shrewd distribution of clues in such a way as to settle guilt on a culprit whose status appears similarly inevitable in retrospect, as if this figure had always been the only eligible candidate. Other commentators emphasize the pedagogical value of narrative, which can make an explanation compelling and memorable in ways that a more abstract and methodical account cannot. For these scholars, who focus on the role of the detective mentality in the classroom, suspense and vividness are features that law professors should borrow from mysteries. In narratives that unfold by maintaining the audience's suspense, each new event or detail attracts further attention. The lesson emerges at the end in a powerful crescendo that is memorable because the explanation doubles as the narrative resolution. Likewise, narratives abounding in vivid descriptions and psychologically plausible motives facilitate engagement because they give human features to legal actors (who might otherwise remain skeletal or abstract) and show how legal doctrines dovetail - or clash - with real-world events.