He Who Represents Himself ... ; Alan Dershowitz's Latest Book Is a Trial for Readers

Article excerpt

If you're a new attorney seeking career guidance, don't look to Alan Dershowitz's latest book for help.

Dershowitz, a law professor, television talking head, and criminal defense attorney to the infamous, fills his 14th book, "Letters to a Young Lawyer," with loads of advice. But it doesn't take a Harvard law professor to figure out that you shouldn't take cash from shady clients.

Among other pearls of wisdom: Temper your idealism. Bad people deserve good lawyers, too. And leading off one chapter, Dershowitz observes, "Passion should not be reserved for the bedroom. It must extend to your life's work."

Dershowitz looks to a familiar source for inspiration: himself. Readers learn that he ranked first in his class at Harvard Law before becoming the youngest full professor in the school's history.

He twice lifts chunks of his novel, "The Advocate's Devil," and then quotes from a review of that book for good measure. There are also replies he wrote to critics of his criminal defense work and a lengthy portion of a trial transcript where a judge berated his cross-examination technique. (Dershowitz won the case anyway.)

Much of his advice is relevant to the tiny subset of lawyers who, like him, graduate at the top of the nation's elite law schools. But few new lawyers will confront the ethical dilemmas of a Supreme Court clerk or argue before the Supreme Court.

At its best, this book explains why lawyers and nonlawyers alike should be skeptical about the criminal justice system and its many participants. …