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Trial and Error by John C. Tucker (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 357 pages, $26) In Trial and Error: The Education of a Courtroom Lawyer, John C. Tucker walks his readers through the most fascinating cases of his long legal career. In chapter after chapter, engrossing trials feature strange story lines, intriguing clients, and nefarious judges. If you’re wondering how someone can find job satisfaction as a trial lawyer, Trial and Error is the book to read. Tucker fittingly begins his narrative with his first trial. At the time, he was a woefully unprepared junior associate assigned to defend an indigent defendant. As it happens, Tucker’s senior co-counsel was unavailable for the trial, thus leaving him to his own devices. Unfortunately for his client, the trial concluded with a guilty verdict and a sentence of significant jail time. Tucker believes that a better-prepared attorney and one more familiar with trial advocacy could have avoided this outcome. As a rookie, Tucker was deficient in many areas and believed these shortcomings contributed to the jail sentence. He pledged never to leave a courtroom feeling that way again. In order to develop courtroom experience, Tucker proactively managed his legal career — taking every chance to get himself inside a courtroom and to align himself with partners who would further his career development. “Every good lawyer says the same thing,” Tucker writes. “The only way to learn how to try cases is by trying cases.” Yet Tucker believes that many young attorneys at large law firms receive little trial experience because of the types of cases their firms handle. These matters are often tied up for long stretches of time in pretrial activities, such as document production. Ironically, many high-priced senior lawyers at major law firms have very little actual experience in a courtroom because of the nature of their cases. Tucker also laments that lawyers attempting to learn their craft, prone to making many of the same novice mistakes that he made, will often serve indigent defendants. Tucker spends the balance of Trial and Error recounting in detail his most noteworthy cases, covering a broad spectrum of civil and criminal matters and a motley assortment of clients, including bookies, rapists, an inadvertent tax dodger, and anti-war demonstrators, among others. Tucker offers a fair amount of behind-the-scenes insight into the legal system. For example, his account of the interplay between the defendants in the 1969-70 Chicago Seven case and the presiding judge, Julius Hoffman, is intriguing. Tucker also turns his scrutiny inward, delving into some of the motivation and personality traits that helped him to succeed as an attorney. He writes, “The trial of a case is a competition, and if you plan to make your living doing it, you better have a competitive nature — and intense desire to win.” It is arguable that, based on this assumption, many lawyers may be hard-wired for success. The profession by its very nature may attract hyper-Type A personalities. Such people may be the only ones willing to continuously put in 60- to 80-hour workweeks and to make the personal sacrifices necessary to succeed at representing clients in our adversarial justice system. Also there are few other professions like that of a trial attorney, where there are such clear winners and losers. Trial and Error illustrates that the absence of gray area may also help attract competitive personalities to the courtroom. Writers Tucker: “In the American legal system, a lawyer’s job is not to seek justice, but to win the case for his client. Indeed, the primary objective of our legal system is not to determine the truth, but to resolve disputes peacefully.” Our system of justice clearly relies on the innate competitive nature of its combatants to reach its desired outcomes. Many advances in the law clearly come from lawyers unwilling to admit defeat. This argumentative competitiveness, which can be disconcerting on a personal level, undoubtedly helps make the system work. He argues that this competitiveness must be maintained within the professional ethics that govern trials and that too much competitiveness can hurt the judicial process. It is arguable that this often leaves attorneys with a very thin line to walk. In Trial and Error, the law comes across as an honorable profession that provides its practioners with fulfilling work, righteous causes, stimulating colleagues, good money, and professional respect. In a world where many lawyers are buckling under obscene work requirements, searching for jobs outside the legal profession, and reporting extreme job dissatisfaction and bouts of depression, Tucker’s description of his legal career stands in marked contrast. For those looking for a beacon or a model of how to construct a legal career, Tucker’s career is one to emulate. He does not detail all the weekends worked, all the documents read, and the other drudgery of the profession, but he does present a compelling picture of a career constructed by being proactive in its development from quite early on. It’s hard to know whether Tucker’s career is an outlier in a profession where many people are unhappy or if he is among a substantial number of lawyers who have gained similar job satisfaction. Either way, Trial and Error presents a stimulating read. Ross Weiner is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and a former associate at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy and at Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. He is now an in-house attorney at an investment bank.

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