Telling Stories Out of School: An Essay on Legal Narratives
Farber, Daniel A., 1950-
Once upon a time, the law and literature movement taught us that stories have much to say to lawyers, and Robert Cover taught us that law is itself a story. Instead of living happily ever after with that knowledge, some feminists and critical race theorists have taken the next logical step: telling stories, often about personal experiences, on the pages of the law reviews. By 1989, legal storytelling had risen to such prominence that it warranted a symposium in a major law review. Thus far, however, little or no systematic appraisal of this movement has been offered. We agree with the storytellers that taking the movement seriously requires engaging its ideas, and that it is time for a "sustained, public examination of this new form of legal scholarship....In this article, we will provide an overview of the legal storytelling movement and evaluate its claims. Rather than asking whether storytelling is, generally speaking, a beneficial activity, we will focus on the appropriate role of storytelling in legal scholarship. That task, however, requires consideration of some subsidiary questions. In Part I, we will consider the connection between storytelling and the thesis that women and people of color write in a different voice. In Part II, we will examine legal storytelling from the perspective of practical reasoning by exploring the ways in which concrete situations function in legal thought. After concluding that stories can contribute significantly to our understanding of the law, we will suggest that although storytelling has no necessary gender-based, racial, or ideological connection, some special benefits may flow from stories "from the bottom." Having established that at least some storytelling is a legitimate form of legal scholarship, we will turn in Part III to the question of how to evaluate scholarly efforts of this kind. How do we determine the validity of these stories? How do we assess the quality of this form of scholarship? And what do "validity" and "quality" mean in this setting?