cover image Lawyerland


Lawrence Joseph. Farrar Straus Giroux, $22 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-374-18417-9

Joseph, a poet and law professor at St. John's University in New York, sat down (mostly at meals) with several lawyers of his acquaintance and distilled their conversations into stories that read like radio mini-plays. Indeed, the frank, high-pitched language verges on Mamet. ""Reasonable doubt? They go fucking bananas!"" declares a weary criminal lawyer of the law-fascinated juries he encounters. A corporate lawyer offers some grim truth: ""What we do is determined by who pays us."" A loquacious judge, after damning lawyers as liars, finally tells her interviewer of a mind-boggling attempted-murder case involving a husband and wife that resonates with painful clarity. A torts lawyer explicates the world of medical malpractice, where transactional costs trump other considerations: ""The public believes in fairness. Well, what's fair for me isn't fair for you."" A black lawyer tells a hilarious story about a black law partner who, exasperated by a condescending white client, finally ""[g]oes and violates Negro Rule Number One,"" i.e., never act crazy: act smart. The noirish world that Joseph creates should serve as a tart reminder to practicing lawyers and as a cautionary tale for the aspiring; others may wish for stories with a larger dose of narrative and epiphany. (May)