Netanel & Toobin

I’m reading Neil Weinstock Netanel’s Copyright Paradox and Jeffrey Toobin’s The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court in quick succession of each other. Such temporal nearness invites irresistible comparisons: both books are well written; both are on topics broadly similar to each other; both are written for a general audience by legal authorities.

It is on this last point — the platforms from which the authors speak — that the comparison readily lends itself to contrast. Netanel‘s full time job is as a professor of law at UCLA, while Toobin is a staff writer at The New Yorker and senior legal analyst for CNN. Toobin is no mere journalist, however. Before joining The New Yorker, he graduated magna cum laude from Havard Law School where he made the prestigious Law Review and then went on to work as an Assistant US Attorney. Against this backdrop, both Natanel and Toobin wrote popular, academic-trade books, books that, if not exactly meant for light airport reading, is not aimed solely at people with formal training in law either.

I think of Natanel as a lawyer/jurist first and a writer/popularizer second. Toobin is the reverse; he’s a writer first and a lawyer second. Does precedence matter? Were Natanel to write a book on the Supreme Court justices, and Toobin copyright, then undoubtedly Natanel’s work would not have mirrored The Nine and Toobin’s would be far from resembling Copyright’s Paradox. However, how much of those differences would be due to their current occupations as law professor and writer, given that they both practiced law at some point?

As a thought experiment, how much more divergent would their respective books look if Toobin had never accumulated the formal law credentials and Natanel had never tried to write a (quasi) popular book? How much more different would the results from this thought experiment look compared to the experiment where Toobin and Natanel are who they are but are assigned each other’s writing project? Are differences stemming from the lawyer/writer orderings swamped by differences in natural interests and inclinations to such an extent as to be indiscernible when juxtaposed? How much or little does the distinction between lawyer/writer vs. writer/lawyer shine through to the final product?

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