In other words, the man who is born into existence deals first with language; this is a given. He is even caught in it before his birth. — Jacques Lacan

The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Laypeople are often fascinated by the law — fascinated, and also horrified. Unsatisfactory outcomes, of which there are not a small number, are almost the least of their objections. They are frustrated by the law’s obfuscations and its inwardness, and they resent the condescension of lawyers. Lawyers, in turn, are frustrated by how much laypeople miss in their account of the culture of the courts — how much, in short, they don’t know they don’t know.

The law serves a crucial public function, but the courts often appear to operate in ignorance of that function. This is why intelligent lay commentary on the law is important. Laypeople see things that lawyers have stopped seeing and raise issues that lawyers have assumed away or given up as intractable. Their commentary aerates a closed system. Occasionally it even embarrasses the legal profession into reform. More… “Balloon Meets Pin”

Jonathan Clarke is a lawyer and critic living in Brooklyn.

James Forman Jr. is an academic who studies the criminal justice system, which is not unusual for a former clerk to a Supreme Court justice. But Forman also worked for years as a public defender in Washington, D. C. This gives him profound first-hand experience of the system that is less common among legal scholars. In Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, Forman calls on both his experiences and the latest scholarship to tell a story that complicates our understanding of mass incarceration in the United States. While in Philadelphia earlier this month for a reading, Forman came by the offices of The Smart Set to discuss his book. A passionate critic of the system, despite the often depressing tale he tells, Forman comes across as an optimist who believes, even in the face of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that we can continue with widespread criminal justice reform.

More… “Forman for Reform”

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at


If I Did It is an extremely confusing book written by an extremely confused man. That man is O. J. Simpson. He wrote the book as an act of confession. Or, maybe not, since the entire book is hypothetical. O. J. Simpson didn’t even write the book. He told his hypothetical account to a ghostwriter named Pablo F. Fenjves. In fact, the name O. J. Simpson is nowhere to be found on the cover of If I Did It. There is only the phrase “Confessions of The Killer.”

The book refers to that now-infamous night twenty years ago, June 12, 1994, when O.J.’s wife Nicole Brown Simpson was killed along with Ronald Goldman. Ron Goldman was, most likely, a man at the wrong place at the wrong time, a waiter returning a pair of glasses left at a restaurant by Nicole’s mother. Or maybe he was romantically involved… More…

I should start by revealing the location of my own perfect pizza: Denino’s Pizza Tavern, which has made its home on Port Richmond Avenue on Staten Island since 1937. The place is run by the family of the original founders, a fact that some claim contributes to the consistent quality of the pie throughout the decades. Staten Islanders, Bayonners, and Brooklynites alike have been eating here for generations, my family included.

Here’s a recent Friday night: The kitchen door swings open and out walks a waitress with a silver platter. The pizza arrives. I raise the first slice to my eager mouth and take a bite. As the thin, brick-oven crust, creamy mozzarella, and sweet but tangy sauce meet my taste buds, I can’t help but think: This must be the perfect pie. It’s the same epiphany I’ve had every time I’ve dined there over the past 10 years or… More…