My Life in Court is a memoir by American trial lawyer Louis Nizer documenting his career in law. The book is based on a number of court cases that Nizer argued in US courts. The original papers for many of these trials are held by the Columbia Law Library. All six cases depicted within the book are civil cases, which is unusual for legal fiction and non-fiction because of the greater sensationality of criminal law cases. The book was received favorably.
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Lost your password? Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email. No matter how much the nine out of ten lawyers who never go to court may deny it, and no matter what legal entrancements they may find to occupy themselves meanwhile, the pure, true, and transcendent legal event is a trial.
And the work of the sorrowful 90 per cent consists entirely of imagining what would happen if the contract, the letter, the prospectus, or other piece of paper ended up in court. Trial lawyers, the really good ones, are a breed apart. They are like intellectual matadors or fifty-mission war aces.
Whole firms are built around a single one, because the mystique of a trial-winner is a great lodestone for clients who are money-winners. The money in legal practice, however, does not come directly from trying cases—and the best lawyers are always those who keep their clients out of court.
But every once in a long while. That is, if you really want to win, and can afford to pay the price. His book tends to prove this point; and has much besides to recommend it to the general reader. Properly read, it is an occasion for some real understanding of the trial man.
Haphazardly or naively read, it is interesting, instructive, and even exciting. I do see very well why something from it has already been scheduled for a Broadway production this fall: television has revived our interest in law, and rightly so: great trials can sum up a generation, being both political and artistic events.
A trial is the basic prototype of intellectual drama—fuller and richer than the dialogue: less rational and Platonic, more emotional and human. It is hardly an autobiography at all, legal or otherwise. The long section on divorce is a bit of an anomaly in the book, since it is a rather broad and surprisingly good discussion of law technique in matrimonial matters—rather than the dramatic narrative of courtroom action. The plagiarism case is effective for showing how much hard work can be consumed in a more or less ridiculous litigation.
The weakest section is that of the libel case concerning Nazi sympathies but most noble and important to the author, who years ago wrote a defense of the Morgenthau thesis on Germany. The narrative of the Pegler trial is far and away the best of the collection. It convinced me that this trial could stand nomination for one of the most significant of our generation—because, as in the Hiss case, the issue was deeply imbedded in the personalities of two combatants, and was tragically impossible of resolution by a legal judgment.
Nizer sees it as a hard-fought vindication of one of his kind of people against a popularly detested troublemaker; and also, naturally, as his achievement of the largest libel award of punitive damages in American legal history. But the true fascination of the Reynolds-Pegler conflict lies in the deeper nuance and profounder inevitability of the clash of journalistic-literary values.
Reynolds was one of the most popular, well-liked, big-time journalists in the country, almost a nice Ed Murrow; as Nizer says, he had even had a private dinner with Churchill. There is an awful lot of name-dropping in this book. For example, out of topical foolishness he spoke in favor of the Russian Army purges. But he is probably one of the most talented stylists appearing regularly in American newspapers. Both started out together years ago in the Heywood Broun coterie. Although Nizer never admits it, in an equivocal way the case from his end was almost too easy.
Pegler was the classic sitting-duck for cross-examination: he could get a job, anytime Hearst readers tire of him, as a demonstrator in law schools. Nizer succeeded so well as a cross-examiner that several times Pegler nearly struck him when he approached the witness stand too closely. This goading technique is indicated by the following:. The baiting was required in order to bring out the malice which supplies the legal basis for an award of punitive damages—the libel itself was fairly clear from the beginning, and there were no actual damages.
Sitting-duck though Pegler was, Nizer showed great cleverness in taking fullest advantage of him. One might imagine oneself, in the role of cross-examiner, letting up after awhile on someone like Pegler. But not the real trial men. They are a breed apart. The essential difference was once characterized for me by a man who was as good a craftsman as any I have ever met.
I was assisting him in a frantic injunction action and, in a reflective mood, he insisted on formulating the reason he was not a top-flight trial man.
You have to be born a tiger and then go to law school. He tells the story well—but I happen to know that it is a much better story than the one he tells, because I was a line lieutenant in the army under his command. The over-all maneuvering did include several lawsuits, as well as hearings before the SEC: Nizer says there were twenty-six hours of oral argument on motions, etc.
What happened was that the great Louis B. They nearly succeeded by undermining and then taking over control of the board of directors. There was no letup from July until the meeting was finally held some time in the middle of October.
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My Life in Court
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My Life in Court, by Louis Nizer
My Life In Court