BILLS, QUILLS and STILLS
AN ANNOTATED, ILLUSTRATED, AND ILLUMINATED HISTORY OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS
By Robert J. McWhirter
Robert J. McWhirter
Robert J. McWhirter is a nationally and internationally known speaker and author on trial advocacy, immigration law, and the history of the bill of rights.
An Engaging Way to Educate Clients on their Rights
Almost as surprising as how much clients and prospective ones think that lawyers have committed all sorts of legal minutiae to memory is how much those in need of legal help misunderstand the law, most especially the penultimate document in the U.S. legal system. What practitioner hasn’t been at least momentarily amused by potential clients who brattle off their alleged rights — to the house in a divorce, to a clean environment in a pollution case, to health insurance, to a new job — thinking that they are constitutionally entitled to them?
As tempted as a lawyer might be to query, have you ever read the document?, the larger goals — helping someone with a legal problem, gaining a client, getting some work — compel just a bit more diplomacy. No need to roll one’s eyes at wrongheaded statements about how a worker’s ‘right to free speech’ was violated when she told her supervisor exactly what she thought of her only to find herself sitting before a Human Resources person for a reprimand, or about how English is the ‘official’ language in the United States because the Constitution says it is.
Simply launch into a brief yet engaging lecture after noting that the prospect raises a good point about the Constitution and its breadth.
Of course, any lawyer would be interested in a conversation on this point, but the general universe, or the subset that has a tiny little legal problem compelling it to seek legal advice, tends to need something more gripping than a centuries-old document to hold its attention. This is where a book like Robert J. McWhirter’s Bills, Quills, and Stills: An Annotated, Illustrated, and Illuminated History of the Bill of Rights (American Bar Association, 2014 hardback available for $195, 2015 paperback available for $29.95) could be most helpful to a lawyer in need of an engaging story or two that will help a client understand what is and is not a protected right.
The book, which took lawyer McWhirter a decade to write, is an engaging chronicle of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. Accompanied by hundreds of visuals and even more footnotes, the work makes a history of such an old document an actually interesting read. Who wouldn’t be tempted by a book that manages to link classic comics, molasses stills, and Homer Simpson to the Constitution?
Some lawyers like to give out pamphlet-sized copies of the Constitution. That can be effective, sometimes. But to bring the Constitution to life, and to make it relevant to a segment of the population that might not be overly interested in it despite seeking its protections, any educator is going to need contemporary and captivating references that illustrate the document’s reach as well as its limitations. The usefulness of Bills, Quills, and Stills can be to the lawyer, given the book’s currency and readability. Just flip to the right chapter on the Constitutional amendment you are addressing and pick up a few tidbits to weave into a story about rights that a client will actually remember.
For the general public, this work is a pertinent one to have around. While many are unlikely to read a scholarly tome on the bill of rights and Supreme Court decisions interpreting them, they may well be drawn to a book like this one, replete with visuals, references to mainstream media, and interesting bits of trivia conveyed with a contemporary twist (how many of us have thought about philosopher John Locke’s position on drug rehab?).
McWhirter, a criminal attorney who is a supervising lawyer at the Arizona State University Alumni Law Group in Phoenix, treats the Constitution with reverence even as he has managed to inform readers about its workings while riffing on subjects like the Beatles’ White Album and how the boys from Liverpool railed on Sir Walter Raleigh and how all of this is pertinent to the confrontation clause. He has made the story of the Bill of Rights readable and suitable for varied audiences, whether they’re lawyers, clients, law students, or co-eds.