A recent article in the Chicago Lawyer, "Poet: A way with words ", describes how defense attorney and long time Illinois Appellate Court judge and interim DePaul Law School Dean, Warren Wolfson, has been writing poetry since his college days. But only began sharing it with others in the last few years.
While he had a reputation for being one of the best writers of judicial opinions in Chicago, most Chicagoans probably would not have thought that Judge Wolfson, the lawyer, would also been Judge Wolfson, the poet. Even his background in journalism might not incline us to see these distinct forms of writing as complimentary.
A passage from the work "Strangers to Us All: Lawyers and Poetry" by Professor James R. Elkins, College of Law, West Virginia University, about that combination might give many of a us a new perspective about the relationship :
"It seems, on first impression, that lawyers and poets must surely exist in different universes of thought and feeling, product and practice. And for many lawyers and poet there may be truth embodied in the crude impression that the law leads north and poetry south; to follow the one path is to preclude the other. Yet, lawyers write poetry, and poets practice law. Should we be surprised to learn that lawyers, by training and craft, attuned to the nuance and power of language, and to the clever deployment of language, write poetry? We may have grown accustomed in this era of John Grisham and Scott Turow to the idea of the lawyer as novelist, but there is still some mystery, at times a sense of wonderment, at the idea of a person both poet and lawyer."
Words and language are the common tools for the lawyer and the poet to communicate effectively with their respective audiences. The article quotes Judge Wolfson, ""My target audience in everything I wrote was an intelligent human being, no matter what he did for a living. He didn't have to be a lawyer or a judge." As different as poems are from court decisions, Wolfson says both kinds of writing demand clarity."The ability to communicate clearly and yet challenge is something that you try to do in poetry," he said. "I don't believe in being intentionally vague."
Judge Wolfson has had 16 of his poems published in literary journals, including 7 in the current issue of Legal Studies Form, a literary journal publishing literary works by and about lawyers.