A book examines the ways in which noted attorneys deploy language to their tactical advantage.
Read (Winning at Deposition, 2012, etc.) heartily subscribes to the notion that the most effective lawyers are gifted storytellers and thus constructs this hefty tome around the power of language in legal settings. For starters, he deserves much credit for expertly curating a project of this magnitude. Each of the seven main sections—Opening Statement, Direct Examination, Cross-Examination, Cross-Examination of the Expert Witness, Closing Argument, Deposition, and Appellate Oral Argument—contains two or three chapters featuring selected attorneys and (as promised in the title) critical moments in illustrative cases. For uninitiated readers, Alan Dershowitz is probably the highest profile figure here, followed by Tom Girardi of Erin Brockovich fame. The range of topics is similarly impressive, from medical malpractice and adoption to SUV safety and the death penalty. The cases studied involve diverse elements, such as the Zapruder film, the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal, and the brutal attack on a San Francisco Giants fan in the Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium parking lot. Read is a master of organization and elucidation, guiding readers point by point through the testimony (with crucial phrases highlighted in boldface), with practice tips and notable quotes from the profiled attorney set off in the margins and revisited at the end of each chapter. “Telling the Story with a Reluctant Witness,” a chapter that focuses on Maureen O’Brien’s successful efforts to secure a rape conviction, stands out as a useful example of how Read structures the text for maximum efficiency and impact. In a succinct manner, the author shows readers how to transform leading questions into “specific non-leading questions” and demonstrates the importance of “looping”—“the technique of repeating a portion of the witness’ previous answer into your next question”—in order to reinforce critical information for the jury. He then proceeds to apply these tools by revealing how O’Brien uses them in the courtroom via a well-annotated trial transcript. As an added bonus, Read has created a companion website to house supplemental materials: video, audio, and additional transcripts.
Required reading for trial lawyers but also exceptionally informative for anyone interested in legal proceedings.