Academic journal article Western Folklore

Tales from Kentucky Lawyers

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Tales from Kentucky Lawyers

Article excerpt

Tales from Kentucky Lawyers. By William Lynwood Montell. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003. Pp. 264, introduction. $25.00 cloth); Tales from Tennessee Lawyers. By William Lynwood Montell. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2005. Pp. 226, introduction. $25.00 cloth)

It was two decades ago that the Smithsonian Folklife Festival featured trial lawyers, dressed in their quaint native garb of suits and ties, as practitioners relying on the folk traditions of their occupation. (Their booth was sandwiched between southwestern woodcarvers and Tennessee moonshiners, this last involving a commodity for which even the most distinguished members of the bar occasionally get a hankering [Kentucky 125; Tennessee 70, 133]). Samuel Schrager, curator of the Folklife Festival exhibit, further elucidated connections between law and folklore in his book, The Trial Lawyer's Art (1999), where he portrays trials as "dueling performances." Another look at the practice of law as folklore is Éanna Hickey's Irish Law and Lawyers in Modern Folk Tradition (1999). The present reviewers, a folklorist (CK) and a lawyer (JG), are particularly pleased that this same subject has attracted the interest of the distinguished folklorist William Lynwood Montell, who built a career weaving together oral history and the study of folklore in his explorations of the Upper South. In his seminal book, The Saga of Coe Ridge (1970), he recreated the history of a defunct African American community. He has subsequently treated a variety of other regional topics ranging from local legends (1983) to an analysis of folk justice in the Upper Cumberland area (1986). In all of these the central focus is the story.

For the two present books, Tales From Kentucky Lawyers and Tales from Tennessee Lawyers, Montell interviewed 39 lawyers in Kentucky and 22 in Tennessee. For the latter, he augmented his own interviews with those conducted by members of the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) as part of their Legal History Project. Montell sought out attorneys who were "middle-aged or older . . . practicing alone or as a member of a small firm" and those located in "small to medium sized towns or cities," as these practitioners were likely to have a sense of how things have changed over time and also to have had experience with the widest possible variety of clients and situations.

In each volume, Montell briefly introduces, for the benefit of the general reader, concepts of folklore and oral history. He does acknowledge that these volumes are not meant to be scholarly, although he hopes that scholars will read them, for the tales further document folklife flourishing in what may seem to be an unlikely setting. But this knowledge is even more important for general readers, whose concept of folklife, assuming they have one, is likely to be limited. Unfortunately, non-folklorists reading these volumes may be bothered by the number of narratives (all taken from field recordings) that don't seem to have a point. Some general readers may feel these should have been omitted, or that they should have been edited to improve readability, as some have redundancies while others have an extra sentence or two that blunts the punch line. …

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