Fifteen Books for Becoming a Better Criminal Defense Trial Lawyer

 Posted on June 25, 2009 in Uncategorized

At Illinois and Missouri lawyer Evan Schaeffer's Trial Practice Tips Weblog, Evan has a link to an Amazon list of 16 Books to Read if You Want to Become a Better Trial Lawyer by Dallas Government lawyer Shane Read. Shane's list includes Gerry Spence's How to Argue and Win Every Time, Posner's How Judges Think, and Read's own Winning at Trial, as well as 14 other books from which people might try to learn skills and the The New Yorker Book of Lawyer Cartoons.

Trial lawyering (by which I mean criminal defense trial lawyering; I know very little about civil litigation, which apparently involves something called a "deposition") is a creative endeavor. Skills are important, of course-before we can improvise, we must have technique to burn-but trying to learn how to try cases from a book is like trying to learn how to play jazz from a book. The way to learn trial skills is to watch, listen, and most importantly do.

So I am not one who thinks that reading about trial skills-even reading transcripts of the best trial lawyers at work-is an effective way of getting to be a better criminal-defense lawyer. Regular readers should not be surprised to learn that my becoming a better criminal defense trial lawyer reading list begins not with skills but with philosophy.

  1. The Unfettered Mind: Writings from a Zen Master to a Master Swordsman

  2. The Book of Five Rings

  1. Being Peace

  1. Tao Te Ching (Mitchell Trans.) (Criminal defense lawyers keep rediscovering the Art of War; to my mind they would better understand it if they started with Lao Tse first.)

Trial is improvisational storytelling. Here are three books on improvisational theatre that will open your mind to ways to be a better trial lawyer:

  1. Improvisation and the Theatre

  2. Impro for Storytellers

  3. Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art

Here's a book on theatre, specifically:

  1. Sanford Meisner on Acting

Here's a book on the broad strokes of storytelling (how to put together a compelling story):

  1. The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

I recommend three other books on skills, but they aren't exactly law books:

  1. The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists

  1. My Voice Will Go With You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson, M.D.

  1. Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming

Not fitting into any of those categories, but helping criminal-defense lawyers better understand how they deal with the high-stakes short-fuse world of trial:

  1. Brain Rules

  2. Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

  1. Jury Argument in Criminal Cases: A Trial Lawyer's Guide (Second Edition), by Ray Moses of South Texas College of Law, will give you 5500 sample arguments to incorporate into your next jury trial.


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