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Legal Novels:
I admit that I hate John Grisham novels. I just cannot stand the prose. I used to like Scott Turrow well enough, especially his nonfiction 1L novel which came out when I was a 3L. Scott was a year behind me in law school so his 1L year was during my 2L year. Then he was a federal prosecutor when I was a prosecutor in the Cook County State's Attorney's office. We shared one defendant in common and had to discuss on the phone which of us was going to prosecute him first. I think it may have been me.

Now comes a legal novel from a bright young up-and-coming law professor at Penn: Kermit Roosevelt. I met Kim last year at the NYU Constitutional Law Colloquium and was impressed. I would have been even more impressed had I known that a novel was forthcoming. The novel is In the Shadow of the Law. I have only just seen the ad for it, but it sounds like great summer reading.
From Booklist: If the first few pages of Roosevelt's debut call to mind John Grisham, don't be fooled. This isn't a plot-driven legal thriller of the sort Grisham writes. The protagonist is Law, with a capital L, and Roosevelt, who has both taught and practiced law, creates his story with full attention to his subject's multidimensional personality. Law is greedy, amoral, ruthless, and all-consuming; yet, in its own way, it is elegant, even beautiful, and fair, when practiced by lawyers with conscience. Law thoroughly overshadows the human characters: Wayne Harper, awaiting execution on Virginia's death row; the victims of an explosion in a Texas chemical factory; even a group of legal associates learning the ropes at Morgan Siler, a top D.C. law firm. "If you give yourself to the [law], it will give you something in return," one of the partners tells a puzzled associate. He's right, but the gift isn't always what's expected. Legal terms and concepts abound so this isn't breezy reading; thought-provoking is a much more accurate description. Stephanie Zvirin


Update: I decided to enable comments so other can recommend their favorite "Legal Novels."

David A. Smith (mail):
Anatomy of a Murder. The combination of The Talk, legal research (Michigan law), and the courtroom dynamics (including Dancer's cross-examination of Mary Pilant) was masterful. And Robert Traver never wrote annything before or since to equal it.
6.25.2005 2:17pm
John P, (mail):
The Just and the Unjust (c. 1943), by James Gould Cozzens. Though marred by a few short scenes with African-American stereotypes, the book as a whole is IMO the best fictional portrayal of what it's like to practice law. (Posner has a chapter on it in his Law and Literature.) Cozzens's By Love Possessed (c. 1956) is a close second in that regard. His Guard of Honor (c. 1948), while dealing mainly with the Army Air Corps rather than lawyering, has a brilliant, understated passage early on describing a judge's frame of mind as he tries to stay focused while working his way through a stack of papers.
6.25.2005 2:34pm
Bruce Wessel (mail):
I read In The Shadow Of The Law -- it's excellent.
6.25.2005 2:37pm
Brian H (mail):
Hmm ... " Restoring the Lost Constition" Methinks you're a syllable short of a full word, there. ;)
6.25.2005 3:01pm
Brett Bellmore (mail):
"Unintended Consequences", by John Ross. And, yes, it IS a legal novel, though much else besides.
6.25.2005 4:39pm
Flatlander100 (mail):
Stephen Becker, A Covenant With Death.
6.25.2005 4:47pm
Flatlander100 (mail):
Stephen Becker, A Covenant With Death.
6.25.2005 4:48pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
Is he a decendant of FDR?
6.25.2005 5:31pm
John Jenkins (mail):
I am not sure that it qualifies, but how about To Kill a Mockingbird? Law in context, as it were.

(I must respectfully disagree with the nod to "One L", I found it to be condescending and laughable: its basic premise seemed to be "look at me the fabulous creative writer! I found law school difficult." It *is* difficult, certainly, because law is difficult, but the kind of horror stories in "One L" don't even approximate the experience of law school for me. Perhaps it was better when it was written, but today it just seems like a heap.)
6.25.2005 5:32pm
Theodore S. Roosevelt, MD (mail) (www):

Is he a decendant of FDR?


No, he's a descendant of TR. His GF was Kermit Roosevelt, TR's 2nd son. I

Kermit was an interesting fellow in his own right. Went with TR on his African (African Game Trails) and Brazilian Expeditions (Through the Brazilian Wilderness). Served WWI with British and American Forces. Businessman, steamship line owner. Fell into drink and committed suicide in 1943 while serving with US Army in Alaska.
6.25.2005 6:57pm
Bairdo:
Some of you might remember the Legal Affairs Debate Club feature that Prof. Roosevelt participated in with Rick Garnett of Notre Dame on the legacy of Chief Justice Rehnquist.
6.25.2005 7:38pm
Bairdo:
Some of you might remember the Legal Affairs Debate Club feature that Prof. Roosevelt participated in with Rick Garnett of Notre Dame on the legacy of Chief Justice Rehnquist.
6.25.2005 7:38pm
PersonFromPorlock (mail):
John P, in defense of Cozzens ("Though marred by a few short scenes with African-American stereotypes..."), a major theme in Guard of Honor is racial prejudice, which he handles with great insight.

So far as I know, the book is now largely forgotten but at one time it was regarded as the best American novel to come out of WW2.
6.25.2005 9:10pm
John P, (mail):
Porlock -- I quite agree. Guard of Honor was the first of his novels that I read, in fact. He really has gotten a bad rap.
6.25.2005 10:48pm
Stephen Brown (mail):
I wouldn't give One L as much credit as our distinguished host. I found Turow to be rather whiny. And perhaps that is why I haven't brought myself to read any of his fiction work...though it comes highly recommended.
6.26.2005 12:44am