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Trial Lawyer: A Life Representing People Against Power
By: Richard Zitrin
“Richard Zitrin is a great storyteller, and this book is filled with wonderful accounts of many of the fascinating cases that he has handled as a lawyer. At the same time, Zitrin is raising profoundly important questions about the ethical duties of a lawyer and how to achieve justice. Zitrin gives a real sense of what it is to to practice law with passion and compassion.” — Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean & Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley
Internationally known legal ethics professor Richard Zitrin’s work as a trial lawyer placed him on the front lines of fighting systemic racism, pervasive elitism, and injustice against individuals in the legal system. In Trial Lawyer, he shares details of the most compelling cases he’s encountered and exposes the dilemmas he faced throughout his one-of-a-kind career. The profound, the consequential, the shocking, the bizarre, and even the humorous, Trial Lawyer brings to life what it means to represent people against power.
From his first case as a young law student on the famous and highly politicized San Quentin Six case and throughout his forty-year career, Zitrin has worked on dozens of cases that underscore the inherent biases of the legal system – towards people of color, the poor, the less educated, and those who just don’t appear to fit the mold of whatever society considers “normal”. His personal stories bring the reader inside the courtroom to experience a unique cast of characters, strange-but-true facts, brilliant trial tricks and tactics—and not-so-brilliant ones that failed miserably. Each had its own lessons: about social justice, fairness, strategy, ethics, morality, and more.
Richard Zitrin’s career as a trial lawyer has involved fighting for individuals against powerful forces in both criminal and civil trials. As a professor, he has taught for over forty years at the University of San Francisco and UC Hastings. He has received numerous awards for service to the community, including the national American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico award for public service, the California Bar’s 2019 award for “outstanding long-term contribution to the advancement of attorney professional standards in California,” and many statewide and local awards for promoting equality and diversity. Zitrin is the author of over 100 articles and three other books, including The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer: Truth, Justice, Power & Greed. He has also served as a legislative consultant to several national and California legislators.
“Richard Zitrin is a great storyteller, and this book is filled with wonderful accounts of many of the fascinating cases that he has handled as a lawyer. At the same time, Zitrin is raising profoundly important questions about the ethical duties of a lawyer and how to achieve justice. Zitrin gives a real sense of what it is to litigate cases, but also what it means to practice law with passion and compassion.”
Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean & Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley
“I don’t think I can adequately describe how absorbed I was in reading what Richard wrote. Richard put into words not only what was happening and what we did, but more importantly provided a real living context that seems to be disappearing in everyday life.”
Johnny Spain of the San Quentin Six
“Richard Zitrin has written a powerful, moving and deeply human memoir, replete with gripping, heartbreaking and inspiring stories, about his life as a criminal defense attorney and the people he has represented. The institutionalized inequities of the legal system, especially as they relate to race and the treatment of Black people, are vividly laid bare, as are Zitrin’s noble attempts to confront them. Zitrin offers a timely example of what it truly means to be antiracist, and how this by necessity entails personal risk, ethical grounding, and an unswerving commitment to justice.”
Chad Williams, Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies, Brandeis University
“Richard Zitrin is a great lawyer because he is a great storyteller. These are his best stories. They are compelling not only because they are true but also thanks to the behind-the-scenes details which bring to life what an advocate must do for his cause and his client. Any lawyer or law student would benefit from this book. Anyone interested in law and justice will enjoy it too. Zitrin has brought the law to life.”
Frank H. Wu, President of Queens College, City University of New York, and the author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White
“Richard Zitrin’s book should be read by every lawyer, everyone who wants to be a lawyer, and anybody who wants to understand why lawyers do what they do.”
Steven Lubet, Professor & Director, Bartlit Center for Trial Advocacy, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law