The Trial Lawyer's Art

Sam Schrager
Outstanding Academic Title, Choice, 1999
Book Cover

PB: $33.95
EAN: 978-1-56639-799-5
Publication: May 00

264 pages
6 x 9

The truth about courtroom craft


How do lawyers sway jurors in the heat of a trial? Why do the best trial lawyers seem uncannily able to get the verdict they want? In answering these questions, folklorist Sam Schrager vindicates—but with a twist—the widespread belief that lawyers are actors who manipulate the truth. He shows that attorneys have no choice but to treat the jury trial, from beginning to end, as an artful performance: as storytelling combat in which victory most often goes to the man or woman who has superior control of craft.

Drawn from fieldwork in the Philadelphia courts and at the Smithsonian Institution's American Trial Lawyers program, The Trial Lawyer's Art gives a remarkable, in-depth look at this craft of performance. It examines how lawyers exploit a case's dramatic potential, how they enact mythically potent themes, how they project personal authority, and how they use cultural identity—their own and opponents' racial, gender, class, and local affiliations—all to make themselves and their stories persuasive to a jury. Schrager depicts the performance styles of some of the nation's most artful criminal and civil advocates: in Philadelphia, prosecutor Roger King, defender Robert Mozenter, and the legendary Cecil B. Moore; from around the country, such litigating stars as Roy Barrera, Penny Cooper, Jo Ann Harris, Tony Serra, and Michael Tigar. These lawyers reflect candidly on their courtroom calculations and share revealing "war stories" about their work.

Integrating performance insights with evocative portrayals of unfolding trials, The Trial Lawyer's Art offers a no-holds-barred analysis of the place of skill versus evidence in the American justice system. In doing so, it raises vital questions about the moral challenges that legal and other professions now face and sheds new light on the role of stories in American life.

From The Trial Lawyer's Art

"If you apply enough pressure on the typical defense attorney, he'll make a mistake. And at that level of practice, dealing with life and death situations, the first person who makes a mistake is subject to lose the case."
Roger King, Philadelphia prosecutor

"I think that emotion is contagious. And if I can bring myself around emotionally to feel what I am saying (to the jury)—and I must feel it—then I think I can spread a contagion of sympathy and emotion."
Roy Barrera, Sr., San Antonio criminal defense attorney

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Storytelling Craft

1. Drama
Two Decisive Hours • Momentum • Nailing Things Down

2. Style
The Trial • Poetics of Identification • Repertoires • Strains in Performance • Interlude: A Legendary Lawyer

3. Identity
Sources of Emotion • Local Inflections • Gendered Plotlines • A Mix of Class, Gender, and Race

4. Deception and Truth
The Client • The Jury • The Judge • The Expert • The Lawyer

Conclusion: In the Service of . . .

About the Author(s)

Sam Schrager is a member of the faculty at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where he teaches cultural and community studies. He was curator of the American Trial Lawyers program at the Smithsonian Institution's Festival of American Folklife, a main source of material for this book.