Law and Literature Weekend Seminar: David Guterson's The Final Case

David Guterson's The Final Case

Banner image of David Guterson's The Final Case

Law and Literature Weekend Seminar: David Guterson's "The Final Case"

October 27-28, 2023

Professor Brian MurchisonIn its unparalleled run of 29 years, the Alumni College’s Law and Literature Weekend Seminar has relied on a highly effective model: gathering professors and participants to study a single work of literature from legal, ethical, and literary perspectives. The results can be exhilarating. Each fall, the School of Law chooses a compelling text, assembles a team of professors, invites participants to Lexington, and clears the way for a unique sharing of ideas and responses.

In 2023, the Program will focus on The Final Case, a new novel by David Guterson. Past attendees will recognize Guterson’s name: 10 years ago, we tackled Snow Falling on Cedars, his acclaimed courtroom drama set in the period of the Japanese internment. His new novel is equally well written and absorbing. Against a backdrop of today’s polarized political culture and an ebbing sense of national community, the story follows an aging, doggedly conscientious lawyer, Royal, who believes in the rule of law and has spent his career representing unpopular pro bono clients. But Royal’s final case stretches his professional code to a breaking point. When he takes on the representation of an adoptive mother whose shockingly harsh discipline may have led to the death of a foster child adopted from Africa, Royal confronts an unexpected depth of human failure and self-delusion.

Our weekend with this mesmerizing story will involve a host of questions about law, society, and professionalism. What is the scope of legal authority over the discipline of children, what are the workings of international adoption and immigration, and what is the latitude of trial judges in sentencing? The Final Case also prompts reflection on the story’s cultural setting, particularly on the various vocations chosen by the leading characters. How can we account for Royal’s professional identity, and how closely does he represent others in the U.S. legal profession? Why has his son, a one-time novelist, abandoned his art? What kind of life choices are available in the world Guterson is describing and does he suggest possibilities for moral progress or change?

Teaching in the program will be law professors Brian Murchison and Matthew Boaz and two faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences. Dave Caudill from Villanova Law School will continue his popular association with the program. As a bonus to practicing attorneys, the 2023 program will again seek approval for two hours of Continuing Legal Education ethics credit. The program is open to anyone interested in literature—you don’t need to be an attorney to attend.