A little more about Life of the Law, with Nancy Mullane

August 25, 2014

Your host:  Nancy Mullane

The Podcast: Life of the Law | iTunes

What is Life of the Law?  Let’s let them explain it:

“What is Life of the Law?  Life of the Law is a new and unique radio and multimedia project that explores the relationship of the law to the experience and meaning of American society and culture.  Life of the Law seeks to engage the listener’s imagination through sound-rich narrative storytelling, penetrating journalism, and thoughtful analysis on a variety of relevant subjects over multiple platforms.”

Welcome to the podcast platform of this project.  I asked Life of the Law co-founder Nancy Mullane to tell us a little more about it.

Nancy Mullane

(Photo Credit: Elisabeth Fall)

You took the name of this project from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s quote, “The life of the law has not been logic.  It has been experience.”

NM: You found the quote. That’s where it came from. Actually, Tom Hilbink came up with the name and it has stuck.  “The law is more than the policeman on the corner. More than the courthouse where our laws are enforced. More than the jail where lawbreakers are punished. In your whole community there are customs and moral codes which guide your actions. What social controls affect you?”

Can you point to some episodes that you feel exemplify this mission statement?  (The death penalty podcasts, Alabama’s bizarre constitution, etc.)  It’s more than fair to say “all of them!”

NM: We do try to find the life of the law in all of our stories/podcasts:

#1 Jury Nullification — life of a trial when a jury disagrees with the law

#2 Jailhouse Lawyers — life of a case when the defendant is locked up without representation

#3 Two Sides of a River — living law that runs through a troubled community

#4 Law in Translation — language of law in an immigrant community

#5 Tough Crowd — the humor that lives in a courtroom

#6 Block Boss — OMG – I love this story about the life of the law on one block in Brooklyn, etc.  Life of the Law breathes life into the black and white of the law.

Do you listen to other podcasts?  If so, which ones and why? 

NM: Good question. Everyone who works on LOTL listens to their own favorite podcasts. We talk about them all the time, what they’re doing, what they’ve done.  Some of the regulars that come up in our production meetings are:

  • Radiolab — for its narrative/audio approach to telling stories about a hard science, while LOTL tells the stories about a social (soft) science.
  • This American Life — balance of hard stories with sound-rich stories. Exploration of content, production process.
  • Audio Smut — one of our producers – Kaitlin Prest – produces it so we listen to it because she takes chances and uses sound in amazing ways.
  • Love and Radio — use of sound to tell story
  • 99 Percent Invisible — we’ve collaborated on a story, so we have cross interests.

I’m sure the other members of the team could sit down and give you a longer list, but this is just what comes to mind right now.

What is the process for adding background music/effects to the podcasts? 

NM: We bring our sound producer/designer, Kaitlin Prest, in at the very outset of the production process — from the earliest meeting with the production team (Exec Prod, Editor, Reporter, Advisory Panel Scholar) on a podcast so she can begin hearing the story. Other than the reporter, Kaitlin is the first person to listen to the tape (all of the tape). Kaitlin and the editor work collaboratively with the reporter to shape the story. Kaitlin begins composing/collecting original music, and archival tape for the piece at the earliest moment in the production process. It is a critically important part of our production process.

Do you have an idea going into it what you’ll use based on the story being told?

NM: If this is about the use of music/effects — yes. Kaitlin selects music and effects based on story being told. Often, this is all part of the earliest production team conversations — ideas are floated and followed on. It’s an exciting part of the process — just as exciting as working with our Advisory Panel Scholars to consider the history or past of a story/concept, current research and who to talk to.

Do most of your story pitches come from journalists, editors, etc.? 

NM: Frequently, our stories start with a story concept. For instance:

We also receive random pitches about the law from producers/editors and then follow up if the stories are solid and the reporter has experience: “Bad Constitution,” “Legal Begging,” and “Surveillance.”

We work with our Advisory Panel and Producers to consider areas of the law that would be interesting, and then try and shake them up in the schedule. We are organizing our Fall and Winter schedule now.

Do you get submissions from “average” citizens who have a legal issue/story they want to share?

NM: Sure. Then we pair the story up with a top-notch producer and, voila: “Public Defenders” and “School Discipline.”