Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: Spinning the Law




All lawyers love to tell war stories about their courtroom battles or other litigation skirmishes. Kendall Coffey has more than his fair share. Most lawyers will practice a lifetime and never, in the middle of finalizing a settlement agreement, be tear gassed by federal agents brandishing assault weapons. Or argue in court over the outcome of a presidential election. Or, for that matter, appear as a talking head on the Sunday news shows.

Coffey has done all these things and more, so with his experiences, it is easy to see why he wanted to write a book. It's not so easy to figure out what he wanted the book to say. 

All non-fiction books need a good introduction, and this one gets off on the wrong foot from the get go by not having one. There is an introduction, but all it contains is a very general opening paragraph, followed by a short anecdote about one of Coffee's media-worthy cases.

The introduction should set out the author's thesis, explain something about the subject, give an outline of the book, provide some information on why the author is interested in the subject and qualified to write about it, and tell the reader what is unique about the author's take on the subject. This introduction provides the road map for the rest of the book. It allows the reader to take the information provided, analyze it to determine if it supports the author's thesis, and decide whether to agree or disagree with the author's conclusions.

Without a good introduction, the reader is left to wander, and wonder, alone, trying to figure out as the book unfolds just where the author is going and what he is trying to prove. The problem with Spinning the Law is that Coffee never makes this clear. It reads like all he wanted to spin were some yarns about his legal career, but was convinced he needed a bigger theme or to teach a lesson, so he grabbed the idea of "trying cases in the court of public opinion."

When he sticks to his war stories, the book is good. Where it falls off is in the filler. Coffee stuffed in some chapters on famous legal cases in history (like the trials of Socrates and Joan of Arc and the Lindbergh kidnapping) and famous modern cases (like Martha Stewart's criminal trial). He salted distracting text boxes throughout the book that contained inane "Spinning Lessons" such as "police and prosecutors need each other – sometimes it is better to lose a case than to lose face with your teammates" or, even worse, "rather than cry over spilled milk, pour the next glass."

If he had a thesis and made clear in the introduction what it was, maybe some of this filler would have made sense. Without knowing where Coffee was going, it was no more than distraction from some pretty interesting stories about his own career.

OTHER REVIEWS

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NOTES

I got Spinning the Law from the Internet Review of Books, who first published this review.


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