A veteran attorney takes readers on a tour through America’s legal labyrinth.
Debut author Zeigler is well qualified to serve as a guide through the maze of the U.S. legal system, having spent more than 30 years practicing law in the federal courts. And in this book, she delivers a handy primer aimed at legal novices who may not know the difference between a deposition and a disposition. “This book is for every ‘normal’ person who comes in contact with the American legal system, voluntarily or otherwise,” she writes. In 17 crisp chapters, the author takes readers through the state and federal courts; the different types of cases, from civil and criminal to probate and bankruptcy; and the vexing details of legal protocols. “When you hear the knocking that signals the judge is entering the courtroom, and the courtroom deputy says ‘All rise!’ you need to be absolutely silent (and stand until the judge says those present can be seated). Silent,” she emphasizes. A particular focus here is to make civil procedure less scary, noting that the rules for conducting litigation “were written by and for lawyers. They are shorthand reminders of many weeks of suffering in law school.” There’s even a comprehensible introduction to hearsay and advice for jurors—“Ignore most of what the lawyers tell you....The only thing that counts in a trial is the evidence—what the witnesses say and what the documents say.” Zeigler has a breezy, familiar style (“Making a will won’t make you dead”) and draws a little on her own experiences in the legal trenches. After a lawyer didn’t show up for a hearing, the attorney’s secretary, whom the author called at the judge’s instruction, was “very politely unhelpful....Finally I told the secretary she needed to call the judge, because I was tired of being yelled at over someone else’s bad behavior. The secretary burst into tears and told me the lawyer had dropped dead during a trial in a different court a week earlier.” Some readers may wish for more personal anecdotes and a less superficial approach to the subject, but Zeigler succeeds in her aim of making the legal jungle more navigable.
From the maddening minutiae of legal etiquette to the rules of civil procedure, this work makes the courts less daunting.