Kafka’s “The Trial” | Lit Legal Reads

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Listen to Joe’s review on our podcast: Episode 3


Greetings, law fans, and welcome back to another installment of Lit Legal Reads! In this series we talk about books dealing primarily with the law and the practice and problems of the law profession. But the stories…they have to be LIT!

First, what about the word, “Lit?”   It was often used by musicians to describe the “sweet spot” where someone was drunk enough to be relaxed and play better, without being wasted. Today, and here, it means amazing, turned-up, popping. 

Okay, let’s do this. My choice for Lit Law Read today is…..The Trial, by Franz Kafka!  Wait! Just hear this out: This is a very real glimpse of the absurdity faced by anyone who has encountered the court system. It was written in 1914 during the first months of World War I, yet it is relatable to anyone that has come into contact with the court system. It is at times terrifying and funny, sometimes both at the same time. Sometimes, just frustrating.

The Trial immediately grabs the reader by carefully portraying a strange but recognizable world through the mind of the main character, Joseph K. 

And the story begins: 

Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.” 

Franz Kafka

After the arrest of Joseph, the story takes the reader along on an unreal journey into the criminal justice system. A system that is incomprehensible even to those who are part of that system every day. 

Joseph K., tells the reader a story illustrating the dark psychology of the lawyers who, in reality even today, have the power to change the system: 

One of the older clerks, a good and peaceful man, was dealing with a difficult matter for the court which had become very confused, especially thanks to the contributions from the lawyers. 

He had been studying it for a day and a night without a break.  

When it was nearly morning, he went to the front entrance, waited there in ambush by attorneys, and every time a lawyer tried to enter the building he would throw him down the steps. 

The lawyers gathered together down in front of the steps and discussed with each other what they should do.

But they would have to be careful not to set all the clerks against them. 

They agreed that they would try to tire out the old man. One lawyer after another was sent out to run up the steps and let himself be thrown down again by the clerk, and the other lawyers would catch him at the bottom of the steps. That went on for about an hour until the old man, who was already exhausted from working all night, was very tired and went back to his office. 

The lawyers at the bottom of the steps could not believe it at first, so they sent somebody out to go and look behind the door to see if there really was no-one there, and only then did they all gather together and probably didn’t even dare to complain, as it’s far from being the lawyers’ job to introduce any improvements in the court system, or even to want to.

Fair shot at lawyers? Maybe. But if you have any interest in the practice of law, The Trial is a must-read.  So read it!  It’s Lit!

I will see you at the next installment of Lit Law Reads with another book. And I will make sure that it is LIT.  

Joseph D. Nohavicka

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