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A first-hand account of what a criminal lawyer does and what it does to him. Newark defense attorney Wishman covers all the usual bases--the inexact science of jury-picking, the dice-roll of plea-bargaining, the courtroom theatrics, the sad stories--but what separates this from the run of trial lawyers' memoirs is the ""confession"" element: Wishman's keen perception of his ambivalence toward his clients and his role. On the one hand, many criminal defendants are ""monsters--nothing less""; even the best of them are usually guilty of something; and almost inevitably they're dumb. On the other hand, the cops often lie; the defendant is ""yanked out of his world . . . and . . . forced to sit in a hostile place listening to a foreign language""; and the defense lawyer feels ""party to a cruel conspiracy."" Like many criminal attorneys, Wishman had learned to stifle his personal revulsion at the defendants with the age-old lawyers' rationale that someone has to represent even the most despicable person. But the moral murkiness began to bug him and, worse, he wondered what personal toll his advocacy was taking. ""For years I had been troubled by my difficulty in expressing the same range and depth of feeling outside the courtroom."" A good criminal defense lawyer can conjure up any emotion on cue at trial; and after a while, says Wishman, he becomes suspicious of his own emotions in other contexts. The answer? Screen the cases better, and knock yourself out for the defendants who appear to possess some ""moral integrity."" Even then, the system can still break your heart. Wishman succeeds in capturing the feel of practicing criminal law in the trenches--not only the sadness of fighting for awful people in an arbitrary system, but the tension, the mad comedy (nutty war stories aplenty), and the pure egomaniacal adrenalin rush of being the center of attention in a crowded courtroom. Very readable, and closer to being Meaningful than a stack of tomes on law and morals.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Times Books