Lawyers in SPACE!

space lawIs it just me or do you not see many lawyers in SF? I mean not everyone can be a smuggler or a starship captain. Someone has to cut the red tape. In fact the under-representation of attorneys in SF is quite odd. Numerous SF authors are or have been attorneys, while there are fans who work in the legal business including the guys behind the Law and the Multiverse blog and your’s truly who blogs for the relaunched Amazing Stories.

I can only think of a couple examples from my own experience with attorneys in SF. The first was from Michael A. Stackpole’s X-wing series, which featured a Twi’lek pilot named Nawara Ven. A former Imperial defense attorney, he defected to the New Republic when he was unable to seek justice for his clients in the Empire’s corrupt and bigoted court system. Although he is primarily a pilot, in The Krytos Trap, Ven actually shows off his lawyering chops by defending Tycho Celchu, when he is charged with treason and the murder of a fellow pilot.

Sometime after Ven, I came upon the DC comic hero Manhunter, specifically the Kate Spencer version that came out in 2004. She is a federal prosecutor who grows increasingly tired of seeing guilty criminals evade punishment so she takes on the Manhunter identity to track them down and give the pubishment they deserve. Considering that the point of the justice system is to prevent people from taking the law into their own hands, Kate sort of missed that lesson from law school. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the series for portraying the seedier underbelly of the superhero world.

I know there are other SF attorneys out there, including John G. Hemry’s Paul Sinclair series (called by the publisher “JAG, set in space”) and occasionally you do see attorneys on SF television shows like the TNG episode “The Measure of a Man“. Still many of these attorney characters tend to be minor to the plot and even if they are important, its not like Andrea‘s job as attorney was central to her role on The Walking Dead.

jsl-smallWell I want that to change because I feel in this case the real world is starting to surpass SF. There is already an entire field of law dedicated to space (and oddly enough it has been enforced since Sputnik I made its first trip into orbit), a law journal covering space law and in 2008 the first attorney with a certificate in space law graduated from law.

Plus there are amazing opportunities available for the next generation of space attorneys. Although there a surprising number of activities space law already covers, there is still wiggle room in regards to Lunar/asteroid mining and space debris clean-up. In fact today’s space lawyers aren’t plump desk jockeys, but military veterans who are now combining their legal knowledge with their love of outer space. Finally, with the growing private spaceflight industry and new nations putting men in orbit, you know there is going to be a greater need for these men and women to iron out the details about who is responsible when things go wrong.

So next time you are fleshing out a character for your space opera and want to make him or her an attorney, avoid making them a blood-sucking parasite from Hell. Instead base them on these pioneers who have their eyes pointed skyward.

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  1. I know a fellow writer who writes *exclusively* Lawyers In Space, specifically a spaceborne circuit court making the rounds of the Colonies. Some action, mostly legal wrangling and the kind of “two men sitting at a table” action that Asimov rocked so hard. A friend described it as “Law and Order: The Federation.”

    Hopefully one of his stories will show up in the first issue of the new Amazing Stories. 😉

  2. Charles L. Harness, himself a patent attorney, wrote works including “The Venetian Court” and “Lunar Justice”

    And of course me. 🙂

  3. Matt – –

    I’m sure you were just baiting everyone, weren’t you?

    Let’s not forget that Star Trek TOS began with Christopher Pike and James Kirk in a court room. Data was tried on the legality of his setience, and both Willaim Shatner and Scott Bakula were tried in a Klingon court. Picard also made it into a Klingon tribunal and stood trial before Q in the first episode of NG; and if we keep going with this, you could probably come up with an entire season’s worth of episodes from just ST alone.

    But it’s true that situation lawyer dramas has dropped dramatically. I stopped watching them after Ironsides and focused completely on SF pretty early on.

    Any way, just a few counter-comments because I have such a mean streak in me. A fun read and cool post, Matt.

  4. Melinda Snodgrass, the same author who wrote Measure of a Man, also wrote the Circuit trilogy ( which are all about space law. I see she’s one of the former lawyers mentioned in your link, but her description doesn’t include either of the two series she’s written that are heavily legal minded.

    Of course, if you’re trying to avoid blood sucking parasites, her new Urban Fantasy series about a lawyer fresh out of school taking a job at a White Fang law firm may not be for you.

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