THE TRIAL LAWYER AS STORYTELLER
In 2003 Mr. Lysaght chaired a program for ABTL on the lawyer as storyteller. His chosen panelists were Brian Panish, the wildly successful trial lawyer; Ron Shelton, director/producer/writer of such motion pictures as Bull Durham, Tin Cup and White Men Can’t Jump; and Ken Kaufman, President of PKE and successful television producer. The topic for the business trial lawyers in attendance was “How To Tell A Story”.
Lawyers have written thriller mystery stories for as long as the genre has existed. John Grisham and Scott Turow are household names. Before them, there was Earl Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series. For the toney crowd, Louis Auchincloss told stories from his position as a corporate lawyer in a large Manhattan law firm. The list is large but pales in comparison to lawyers who aspire to be novelists. There is just something in the two professions that connect.
There are many other widely read lawyer-novelists. John Mortimor. Bob Tannenbaum. Richard North Patterson. Baldinacci. Wallace Stevens. Even Henry Fielding, the 19th Century writer who crafted Tom Jones.
Nor are such aspirations limited to the trial bar. Dial M For Murder was written by a state supreme court justice. Even politicians as disparate as Newt Gingrich and Clinton’s Secretary of Defense have tried their hand at fiction writing with decidedly mixed results. And on the nonfiction side there is also a steady stream of works by lawyer-novelists, everything from Christopher Darden, writing of the OJ Simpson Litigation and an Italian judge who wrote Involuntary Witness about the Mafia.
Brian Lysaght has published four novels to date with more on the way. They are:
- Special Circumstances (St. Martin’s)
- Sweet Deals (St. Martin’s)
- Eye of the Beholder (Simon & Shuster)
- Last Dance of the Viper (Tor Forge).
The industry organ Publisher’s Weekly wrote “there will be comparisons to Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross McDonald. The LA Times said “like downhill racing there are thrills galore.” Another PW review predicted “a story told this well and this intelligently deserves a wide readership.” The NY Times described the plot as “gripping, with the author constantly throwing curves at the reader.
Famed lawyer Leslie Abramson stated that, “if all writers wrote as well as Brian Lysaght, lawyers like me would be out of business.”
Brian, like other lawyer-novelists, is first and foremost a professional litigator and second a professional writer. The skills necessary for one transfer easily to the other. Effective presentation in a courtroom and on a page are two sides of the storytelling coin. Each must be compelling and, above all, credible.
Is legal writing different than fiction writing? No. In each the author must be lucid, compelling, spare. The reader, the judge and the jury are consumers of the story of the case. There is a protagonist, the novelist and lawyer must inspire credibility above all else, and that means facts and law coalesce into a winning argument.
The key difference is that there are no surprise endings in law. But in the courtroom there is a protagonist, the client, whose story must be well told. It is the lawyer’s storytelling task to convince the judge or jury that the client/protagonist is also a hero.
As to future novels the links on the left contain teaser chapters. As to aspiring lawyer-novelists, Mr. Lysaght has only one suggestion: “Don’t think about writing. Don’t talk about writing. Do it.”
This page will be periodically updated with reviews of new thriller mysteries I recommend and “how to” articles on the typical hurdles facing the lawyer-novelist, from writer’s block to NY literary agencies.