LAW, LAWYERS AND LAYMEN: Making Sense Out of the American Legal System by Burton Harnett
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LAW, LAWYERS AND LAYMEN: Making Sense Out of the American Legal System

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A breezy, informative primer on lawyering, by a former New York State judge who believes ""the layman's critical error is in separating an idealized concept of law from the controversial person of the lawyer."" By and large, says Harnett, lawyers are establishment types, reasonably intelligent, skilled in analysis of issues, and skeptical (""lawyers know how things can go wrong""). But they are also ""professional manipulators who understand well the difference between morality and enforceability."" Harnett views the profession's canons of ethics as more pragmatic than moral, and is critical of bars on advertising. (""The greater danger lies in the closed interview in the office,"" where ""the same lawyer who would advertise badly would tell you anything to get your legal business."") He provides a very clear discussion of the economics of law firm practice, the ins and outs of billing for legal services at hourly rates (a lawyer flying to California for client A, but reading papers en route for client B, will often bill the time to both), and the different ""client contexts"" in which litigators and commercial lawyers operate. (Litigators have little ongoing client contact, and are used to being in charge; commercial lawyers are accustomed to working closely with their clients in negotiations, and to following clients' specific instructions.) What separates good trial lawyers from the herd--and Harnett admits that ""the trial lawyer incompetency quota is excessive""--is preparation, persuasiveness, and quickness; the proposal that trial lawyers be certified as specialists fails to recognize that sublicensing will not rectify ""the personal traits that result in incompetent advocacy by those with proper paper credentials."" Appropriately, some of Harnett's most interesting insights reflect his own judicial experience. Lay readers may be surprised to learn, for example, that most judges (other than the really good ones) reach a conclusion and ""close their minds"" well before a trial is actually over, after which they sometimes become misleadingly generous: the judge ""becomes graciousness personified as he eases the loser to the chute; this is for appellate hygiene."" Non-""scholarly,"" witty, and very informative for general readers.

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich