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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

More on Defense Lawyer by James Patterson and Benjamin Wallace

Defense Lawyer by James Patterson and Benjamin Wallace - Patterson, the famed writer of crime fiction, and Wallace, a features writer, contributing editor and non-fiction author,  write a biography of famous New York City defense lawyer, Barry Slotnick. 

Slotnick, a brilliant student who graduated from law school at 20 years of age, grew up in the Bronx. As a Jewish boy he learned to use his fists when Italian boys called him Anti-Semitic names.

As a young lawyer he started representing members of the Mob families in New York. An early trial saw him defend Bullets, who was Vincent “Chin” Gigante’s dog. Bullets had been alleged to have “a known vicious propensity”. Using an identity strategy Slotnick saved Bullets from death.

Patterson and Wallace brilliantly recount the colourful stories of Slotnick’s representations of the wiseguys of New York. Slotnick’s life would make a great T.V. series. 

The authors distill trials to their essence. They provide insightful anecdotes.

In my previous post I discussed the publicity Slotnick courted and manipulated. He was a favourite subject of New York tabloids.

Too few works of legal fiction discuss money. John Grisham is an exception. His lawyers are always conscious of money. Jake Brigance is the leading trial lawyer in Ford County but he struggles to make more than a modest living.

Slotnick liked to say he “practised door law” in that he was available for hire by anyone who walked through the door. 

On a mid-winter day in January of 1986 there was an eclectic mix of people in his reception area - a couple of Chinese gangsters, a Russian mobster, two Hasidic men, Bernhard Goetz (the subway vigilante) and John Gotti’s driver (his employer was in a conference at the office.

Yet Slotnick had two conditions before taking on a client.

First, his retainer had to be paid. Life is different in NYC for defense (we spell defence in Canada) lawyers at the top. Slotnick required a $50,000 retainer to take a case. I admire his forthrightness though it means he mainly represented in his prime a select group of criminal defendants, those wealthy enough to afford huge fees. They did range across the spectrum of those with money in NYC.

The first condition was actually more nuanced. Slotnick would take on pro bono cases if he “thought he could win”.

A San Francisco defence lawyer, Jake Ehrlich had a simple fee for representing an accused charged with capital murder - whatever you owned. His rationale was that if he won he gave you a new life. None of his clients were ever executed.

Second, Slotnick refused to represent child molesters. Many crimes are abhorent. Slotnick was willing to represent mobsters charged with murder. I understand his refusal to represent child predators but it contradicts his conviction about “everyone deserving a good lawyer”.

Everyone has their quirks. For Slotnick:

.... paper clips were his preferred instruments for working out anxiety. Slotnick would unfold them. He would bite them. He would drop them on the floor. Breakstone could track his boss through a courthouse by followin the trial of paper clips.

It takes confidence to become the focus of a room. Slotnick commanded courtrooms:

At six foot one, dresssed in one of his custom three-piece suits, he didn’t walk into a courtroom so much as enter it, his overcoat draped over his shoulders like a cape, as if he were a matador or a count or Superman. “Slotnick, arrivĂ©e,” Jay Breakstone liked to say.

Flamboyance may conceal preparation. Slotnick worked hard to prepare for trials.

He was skilled in facts and law but he was so busy that he had to choose between concentrating on the facts or the law in preparing cases. I was not surprised he focused on the facts. While assistants, investigators and associate lawyers could help him with the facts he spent most of his time working out how to present and challenge the evidence - the contradictory facts - presented by witnesses. He could delegate research and the writing of legal arguments. He always had a “law man” to do that work. I have found as a lawyer for almost five decades that I spend more time on the facts of cases and rely on the talent of young associates for the law. They are better trained and quicker than myself in the computer explorations that dominate 21st Century legal research. Slotnick might come up with the concepts to be argued but not the research.

The pages flowed with the ease of reading fiction. Patterson and Wallace have written an excellent book going to the heart of what made Slotnick a great lawyer.

****

Patterson, James and Wallace, Benjamin - (2022) - Defense Lawyer

2 comments:

  1. I'd read about Slotnick in the news, of course, Bill, but never known this interesting background information. I find his rules interesting. The money one isn't surprising, especially, as you say, in an expensive place like New York. I didn't know he had a rule about not defending child molesters, though. Funny how that goes against what he believed about everyone deserving a good lawyer. I think, though, that a lot of have seemingly contradictory positions on things. At any rate, he was a really interesting person and it's interesting to know more about him.

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    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I do not believe anyone is completely logical. I would love to have a conversation with Slotnick.

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