The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers

I am a lawyer; I like legal thrillers- (read at least 30 + legal thrillers per year) and yearn to be a ‘lawyer oblique novelist’ one day. Veteran writers always say that you should write about what you know. I know a bit of law- and have a plot of a legal thriller in mind- but what refrains me from going ahead is the fear that I might write something which is not…..verisimilitude (yup, I also like playing with biggie words). And that’s the biggest mental block I have to go full steam ahead.

It is at this juncture, I got hold of lawyer oblique author Doanna Ballman’s marvelous work “The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill all the Lawyers.” The title says it and this I believe is the definitive work so far as legal fiction writing is concerned. From the nuances of civil to the procedural intricacies of criminal law- the author explains in clear, pristine words- of what one should do…and more importantly what one should not do while writing a law novel, screenplay or story.

The author starts with the simple things that writers (including lawyers) get wrong- like the mode of courtroom address- whether it’s “Mister Justice” or “Your Honor” and steadily goes onto other finer points of legal procedure like interrogatories and subpoenas. A writing guide always has the risk of falling into a rambling text. And the author must be appreciated for not falling into that pit. Frankly, this is not a guide per se…its more of a reference to the would-be legal fiction novelist/ screenplay-ist. You need not by-heart this book line by line- but it’s the Bible to be had- the immediate reference for one seriously writing a legal background story.

 Of course, this book is meant for the serious author who wants the research to be perfect (and by a serious author I mean those who follow the Scott Turow, Richard North Patterson school of thought);  and for those who really want to a make a mark in the world of legal fiction. If you are an author who stretches the scope of ambit of literary license to the extreme, this book is not meant for you.  And of course such an author must also take the risk of his book/ movie being lambasted by critics.  The choice is yours.

I am confident that I am a good lawyer, and after reading this book, I am confident I can also be a good author. My dream of becoming a “bestselling legal thriller author” has just got 10 steps closer.

The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers
Donna Ballman
Behler Publications (2011)
ISBN 9781933016535
Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan for RebeccasReads (3/12)

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