This seems to be the right time for publishing reviews of Your Witness: Lessons on Cross-Examination and Life From Great Chicago Trial Lawyers, edited by Steven F. Molo and James R. Figliulo. Already Scott Greenfield has posted a review, and Mark Bennett posted his review just a little later. I guess it’s my turn.
Your Witness consists of 50 short chapters about different aspects of cross-examination, each written by a different lawyer. Most of the chapters include a story or two from the author’s career.
The book is a Chicago project. All of the lawyers practice in Chicago—although a number practice in other places as well—the editors are from Chicago, and the book is published by the Law Bulletin Publishing Company, which is located in Chicago.
Personally, I enjoyed the book a lot. I like stories about lawyers and the sneaky things they do, and cross-examination is where the sneakiest lawyers really shine. If you like tales of skillful legal combat, you might enjoy reading these stories.
(If you’re as fascinated by legal stuff as I am, editor Steven Molo also recommends reading One Man’s Freedom by Edward Bennett Williams. It’s long out of publication, but you can find a used copy at Amazon.com. I just got mine in the mail.)
The price is about twice the cost of a typical hardcover from Amazon, which is a little steep if you’re not buying it for your job, but you’ll probably be able to find a used copy in a few months.
But this book isn’t meant to be read for entertainment purposes alone. It’s intended to teach new lawyers and lawyer wannabes a few practical aspects of cross examination. Since I’m not a lawyer, I don’t have much to say about that—read Greenfield or Bennett for criminal trial lawyer’s view—but I suspect that trial lawyering is one type of work that really benefits from reading other people’s stories.
I know that when I was a computer systems manager back in the 80’s, one of the most useful aspects of users’ group meetings was hearing everyone else’s war stories and horror tails. It’s helpful to hear how other people solved problems, and it’s even helpful to learn that other people are having the same problems as you. If you’re a trial lawyer and that sounds right to you, then you should probably get yourself a copy of this book.
One of the things that impressed me about Your Witness is that the editors somehow got 50 busy trial lawyers to take the time to write a chapter. In an email interview, I asked Steven Molo how they did it:
Well, your question is probably best answered by the fact that it took over four years to complete this project. Given the schedules of the authors and editors, it was not the sort of thing you just sat down and did. There was a lot of picking it up and putting it down but in the end we believe it was worth it.
In the introductory matter, the editors said they chose only lawyers in private practice (with the exception of Federal Defender Terry MacCarthy) so I asked Molo to explain why:
First, there are very few, if any, government lawyers with the breadth of experience possessed by the authors of this book. Second, as far as prosecutors go, they simply do not have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses as often as defense lawyers and given their usual advantages in a trial, their true abilities as trial lawyers generally are not tested until they are on the defense side.
Terry MacCarthy was included as an author because of his long and successful career, and because he is well known to members of the local and even national bar.
Since I read courtroom drama for entertainment, I’m used to reading about murder, rape, drug deals, and violent street crimes. Your Witness naturally had to have a much broader view of trial lawyering, including a lot of civil actions, but it seemed to me that most of the criminal trials tended to be for white-collar crime, including rather a lot of trials for corruption (especially corruption of Cook County judges).
I also asked Molo if white-collar crime was an intentional focus of the book. He responded by disputing my premise:
There are plenty of stories about “non-white collar crime” in the book. Read the chapters of Bill Martin, Ray Smith, Sam Adam, Rick Halprin, Tom Breen, and mine for that matter. We didn’t direct authors to write about any specific type of case. Plenty of us have represented people charged with murder, rape, and robbery over the years. There are also stories about great moments in personal injury trials, patent disputes, and business cases. We tried hard to have authors who represent a broad array of trial practices. We believe great trial lawyers can try any type of case.
The subtitle claims the book has “Lessons on Cross-Examination and Life,” and I found a few life lessons in the book, but this is getting long enough, so I’ll be writing about those in upcoming posts.
Anyway, to finish out my review, I asked Molo which blawgs he reads. He responded that he’s too busy practicing law (or writing books with 50 authors) to read many blogs, but he likes to occasionally check in on these:
Judging by the blogs missing from that list, I suspect Molo doesn’t know which bloggers his publicist has been sending review copies to.