Anarchy and Elegance

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

At first glance, ANARCHY AND ELEGANCE seems to be a replay of Scott Turow’s now-classic ONE L: AN INSIDE ACCOUNT OF LIFE IN THE FIRST YEAR AT HARVARD LAW SCHOOL (1977), allowing for a slight modification in inquiry from one prestigious law school to another. Both works are revelations from “spies” whose previous backgrounds were literary—Turow, a former Stanford instructor in creative writing; Goodrich a journalist who evinced no interest in practicing law, beyond earning his MSL. Both books report on high levels of anxiety, frustration, and occasional despondency among law students; both feature professors as terrors—Perini at Harvard and (less frightening) Guido at Yale; both satirize an education that the writers characterize as narrow, elitist, and at times dehumanizing.

But beyond this point of agreement, Turow and Goodrich diverge. ONE L centers upon the author’s private torments, his struggle to understand the law, and his eventual achievement in passing his courses with distinction. ANARCHY AND ELEGANCE concentrates upon the structuring of the legal mind. Goodrich himself notes the difference between his book and Turow’s, which “contains little analysis of legal education and its effects.” In contrast, Goodrich emphasizes such matters as the purpose and result of formalizing law into modes of argument. An exceptionally astute scholar—potentially a fine lawyer—he downplays the emotional crises of his personal life and those of his fellow students, in fact neglects to tell the reader what grades he and his friends earned, or to indicate their responses after toiling a year in law classes.

What Goodrich says about law in general, however, ought to be required reading for every bright student who has ever contemplated the risks and rewards of entering law school. Indeed, the book is valuable for nonlawyers as well, not simply as a cautionary tale but as an insightful memoir on how to crack the surface of legal scholarship. As a work of metajournalism—an insider’s account of how he methodically goes about writing a book about law—the memoir is a masterful contribution to the literature of reportage.