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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

June 4, 2008

HALT focuses on Fred Rodell — you should, too

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,lawyer news or ethics — David Giacalone @ 8:11 pm

Last February, the legal reform group HALT unveiled a wonderful project to revive “the visionary legal reform lessons of Fred Rodell.” At that time, HALT launched the website, along with its blandly-named The Law Blog. Former Yale Law Professor Rodell, who died in 1980 at 73 years of age, spent decades trying to demystify the legal profession, which he compared to medicine men and high priests, and is considered the Father of the Plain English Movement.

Steve Elias of posted HALT’s announcement in February at The Law Reform Soapbox (Feb. 20, 2008); and Laura Orr pointed to it from her Oregon Legal Research weblog at the end of March. Otherwise, the blawgisphere — including this weblog, which did not know about the Rodell Project until yesterday — has basically been mum about this fascinating legal gadfly. That’s too bad, because blawgers should feel a special kinship with Fred Rodell. As an obituary noted, Rodell “prided himself on writing for lay audiences and teaching others to do so. . . . Many of his students are the leading legal journalists of today.”

Here’s how the HALT announcement introduces Fred Rodell:

“Sixty-nine years ago, a young Yale law professor rocked the legal establishment with a scathing indictment of the American civil justice system entitled Woe unto You, Lawyers! Almost overnight Fred Rodell became the nation’s leading debunker of legal myths, and the target of untold ire from thin-skinned lawyers. And his provocative observations are as accurate today as they were seven decades ago.”

They go on to say that “Rodell was a true pioneer of the legal reform movement, one of the first to identify the structural failures of our civil justice system and to stridently challenge the legal establishment. But since his death in 1980, his thinking has not received the serious consideration that it deserves, and his key writings have disappeared from print.” Thus,

“That is why we at HALT were so excited to begin working with San Francisco legal reform advocate Alex Kline and Fred Rodell’s family to revive these visionary legal reform lessons on the Internet.”

That’s right: You could pay $45 to $93 dollars today for a used hard copy of Rodell’s out-of-print masterpiece at the Marketplace. But, thanks to HALT and Rodell’s family, you can now download “Woe Unto You, Lawyers” and read it for free in a 115-page PDF File. Likewise, Fred’s site offers access to his infamous law review article “Goodbye to Law Reviews” 48 Va. L. Rev. 279 (1962). You will especially appreciate Rodell on law journals, if you’ve been enmeshed in the recent tiff over Harvard Law Review standards; see, e.g., Bernstein at Volokh; Lat at Above the Law; and Greenfield at Simply Justice). For a law review article about Rodell, see Prof. Ken Vinson’s “FRED RODELL’S CASE AGAINST THE LAW” (Florida State Univ. Law Review, 1996)

Even if you somehow believe there is absolutely no need for legal reform (or you’re too busy milking the present system to improve it), you have to admit Rodell is on target with insights such as:

  • “There are two things wrong with all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content” And “The average law review writer is peculiarly able to say nothing with an air of great importance.”
  • “[L]aw deals almost exclusively with the ordinary facts and occurrences of everyday business and government and living. But it deals with them in a jargon which completely baffles and befoozles the ordinary literate man.” And,
  • “[I]t is pretty hard to find a group less concerned with serving society and more concerned with serving themselves than the lawyers.”

Sadly, HALT has only had one post since February at The Law Blog — a reprint of an op/ed piece by HALT’s Executive Director Jim Turner, about the anti-consumer power grab by the legal profession in Wisconsin to greatly expand the definition of “the practice of law.” I’m hoping this posting will nudge some of our readers to get over to and to The Law Reform weblog, and to let HALT know you would indeed love to see much more commentary in the spirit of Fred Rodell.

Meanwhile, woe unto me, if I don’t get some new haiku up here at f/k/a. To wit, another bunch by our Honored Guest Poets that were honored by inclusion in the latest edition of The Heron’s Nest (Vol. X, No. 2, June 2008):

a new light
on the dashboard
evening rain

…. by Alice Frampton

the first bare trees
a flock of blackbirds
turns back the clock

storage closet
the dead spider
as fine as its web

. . . by George Swede

snowed in . . .
opening the lid
of my breadmaker

. . . by Laryalee Fraser

the cat
right where I left him
haloed moon

. . . by Carolyn Hall

enough sunrise —
a small window
in an old hotel

. . . by Gary Hotham

p.s. In case you missed the story of the drunken teens who vandalized Robert Frost’s former home and were sentenced to a lecture on poetry, here are some links (all dated June 3, 2008): “Vandals Forced to Study Poetry of Frost” (npr, June 3, 2008, interviewing the professor who gave the class); “Poetic sentencing justice” (Prof. Berman at Sentencing Law & Policy weblog); “Reading Justice: Vandalize a Home, Read a Poem” (Deven Desai, at Concurring Opinions); “After a wild party, justice is metered out” (AP/Boston Globe).

I must confess: As I have virtually no interest in poems longer than 17 syllables (and prefer them even shorter), and even less interest in any lecture on poetry, this sentence would indeed deter me from getting drunk and rowdy at the home of any famous poet. So, the residences of Yu Chang and Roberta Beary are safe. Of course, as much as I like Fred Rodell, I might get a little rambunctious, if you make me sit through a reading of his Haverford College Commencement Address (1962), which is done all in free verse.


  1. […] More about Rodell here. H/T: f/k/a […]

    Comment by On the law | a public defender — June 4, 2008 @ 8:32 pm

  2. Hi, APD. Thanks for pointing to this site and for choosing one of Rodell’s very best quotes to share with your readers.

    Comment by David Giacalone — June 4, 2008 @ 8:44 pm

  3. David: Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I spent a good part of last night reading the book (I think your link doesn’t work – I had to go to their website to d/l the PDF file).

    Comment by Gideon — June 5, 2008 @ 7:21 pm

  4. Gideon, I’m very pleased that this post has had its desired effect — on you, at least. And thank you for telling me about the broken link, which I have now fixed.

    Comment by David Giacalone — June 5, 2008 @ 8:07 pm

  5. David:

    How wonderful to run across your posting above. I have been an acolyte of Fred Rodell’s ever since I read “Woe Unto You Lawyers” in one big gulp sitting in a bookstore where I stumbled upon it in Manhattan in 1982 — it solidified my resolve not to return to law school.

    I sent a blind email to Jim Turner at HALT a couple of years ago suggesting we put up a web site about Fred and was happily astonished when he agreed to put HALT’s imprimatur on the project.

    I hope that Harvard Law students — and other law students throughout the land — will visit this web site and read Fred’s writings for many years to come. I can think of no more salutary voice that needs to be heard by American law students.

    Kind regards,

    Alex Kline
    San Francisco, CA

    Comment by Alex Kline — September 5, 2008 @ 11:15 pm

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