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Banal Series #22, Legal Briefs

These screeds of legalese describe, in painstaking detail, the factors, circumstances, evidence, and purpose of a case. They lay out a game plan, a set of wants and needs, and perhaps most egregiously, they present a narrative of a person or thing in question.

These narratives paint a somewhat disembodied picture of a crime or tort. A person’s actions are depicted as specimen; they no longer describe personality, and become deprived of subtle nuances that make a person unique. They may frame, depending upon the side of the author of the brief, the person or thing in a positive or negative light, but they ultimately lack certain detail. Legal briefs abstract what is known into digestible morsels – actions described in tone and timbre congruent with the case, congruent with the intent of the counsel. The person in a brief becomes a defining crime or tortfeasance – culpability or lack of culpability, the intonation. They are no longer people; they are simply an action tied to a crime or a lawsuit.

The briefs are constructed with precedent in mind. Flanks of leatherbound texts of caselaw, showed conspicuously in commercials and websites of firms, inform the legal brief as it is scribed. The specificity of the brief – the details of what happened, Kantian considerations of intent, and who or what was harmed and at what cost – are written adhering to those precedents. In essence, the legal brief ties itself to a body of work filling shelves and libraries across the nation and even world. Borrowing from John Stewart Mill, the person described in a legal brief becomes a sort of utilitarian means to an end – regardless of the side of the counsel. In that vein, the question of intentionality, in a Kantian sense becomes oddly contradicted, because Kant himself saw it as wrong to use a person as a means to an end at all.

The briefs are then pored over, in writing, and in reading, by countless attorneys, law clerks, law students, and paralegals – creating a sort of cloistered community, and accounting for thousands of billable hours. Further abstracting the initial impetus of the narrative – that person in question is alienated nearly beyond recognition, as they now represent a written document, and, more pointedly, a monetary number.

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