cover image A LAWYER'S LIFE


Johnnie L. Cochran, with David Fisher. . St. Martin's/Dunne, $25.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-312-27826-7

As Cochran freely concedes, his representation of O.J. Simpson transformed him from a lawyer into a celebrity. In this memoir of his professional life, he tries to put that case in perspective. Although a fierce critic of the racism he sees in the legal system and among the L.A. police, Cochran says the common perception that he is anti–law enforcement is wrong; he began his career as a prosecutor, but he is on a mission to eradicate racism wherever he finds it. Long before the Simpson case, he made a name for himself (and a small fortune) by successfully bringing police brutality cases on behalf of African-Americans like Barbara Deadwyler, whose husband was shot dead for no apparent reason while rushing his pregnant wife to the hospital. Cochran lost that early case and many others because, in his view, white juries refused to believe that police officers would lie under oath. Unfortunately, this memoir reads as though it was dictated to co-author Fisher (My Best Friends, with George Burns): it drifts from one legal war story to the next, often repeats details and occasionally leaves thoughts dangling. And that's a shame, because Cochran's experience gives him the authority to utter some uncomfortable truths, among them that justice is often reserved for the wealthy. Worse yet, he says, racism permeates the entire system, from the cop on the beat to the judge on the bench. Cochran musters case after case in support of these conclusions. This revelatory, often dismaying account provides a cogent explanation of why many African-Americans have such a jaded view of our legal system. (Oct.)