Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book Review for The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers by Donna Ballman, J.D.

Hello, as a writer I often find myself venturing into areas of research that I've never covered before. When I saw the opportunity to review this book, I jumped at the chance. Something new! I was not financially compensated for the review. The book was sent to me, and I read it. The opinions here are strictly my own:

The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers by Donna Ballman, J.D.

Author’s credibility: The author is a lawyer and has won such prestigious awards as “The Lawdragon 500 Leading Plaintiffs’ Lawyers in America, 2007” and others. Picking up this book, I had total confidence that I was receiving valuable and accurate information. After reading through it, though I don’t have a law background—I am a writer who does constant research on a variety of topics—I knew that the information would be a huge help in writing a book involving the law and lawyers. It was obvious throughout the book that Ms. Ballman is an expert with her background education and experience. The information came across in an easy style, with a quiet confidence. I could almost picture having coffee with Ms. Ballman while I interviewed her for a book I wanted to write having a law setting.

Stated goals of the book: This is a writing reference for those who want to write about when someone is sued, the litigation involved, the characters and law settings that will come up in the plot, or it can be enjoyed by someone who just wants to know more about these things, to be educated in an entertaining way, and not have to drudge through thick, dry tomes on the law. It’s also a great resource to direct a reader elsewhere for more information. It is not a book on criminal law. To write about a murder trial, one would have to refer to another book to get research information.

Here are important things discussed throughout the book, listed on the back cover: What it means to be sued, attacking the complaint, business lawsuits, fraud, discrimination, wrongful termination, negligence, assault, battery, false imprisonment, trespass, depositions, mediation, arbitration, witness list, trial call, opening statement, elements of a trial, post-trial proceedings, appeal.

These things were indeed discussed, and in a way for someone who has zero law background (such as me) to understand and be able to use in a coherent way. However, it is very intelligent writing, and a reader does have to pay close attention.

Writers will be able to write believable characters and stories if they adhere to the facts stated in this reference guide. The author, Ms. Ballman, has a clear understanding of what it would be like to have to research a topic from scratch and write a fiction book because she gives the right information for an author doing just that. Her expertise shining on each page was more useful to me than other sources might have been because of her logical but fun style of presentation, making the information easier to remember than it would have been had she written it like a textbook. 

Overall concept:
The book presents its topics in a manner that I’d describe as more informal, with humor sprinkled throughout, a potentially dry topic discussed in an entertaining way. Her little side comments about things that she witnessed personally were funny.

The book gives detailed background on what it promises to, presenting the information in logical sections stated in the Table of Contents. The ideas are developed topically such as in chapters like “The Characters” where she discusses everyone involved in a trial from the judges to the clerks and plaintiffs to “Settings” (ranging from the smallest solo office to the biggest law firms), and everything in between that would be necessary for an author of legal stories to write. General background is given as well as everyday, little details. I was able to visualize the things Ms. Ballman discussed.

The author, being a lawyer, gives real life examples of things that have happened and could happen, and stimulates a writer’s creativity with excellent questions such as if those at a big firm try to charm an associate away from a small firm, does he sneak them some evidence? (Lots of questions in the book, so much food for thought for those plots)

Enough about each topic is presented to educate a writer so he or she can write vivid details in a law thriller or other legal book. But this isn’t a huge handbook. Some topics cover just enough so that the reader knows where more research might be needed, and the author has done a good job pointing the reader in the right direction. The information is highly valuable but not exhaustive.

I enjoyed the little extras in this reference guide such as comments that cleared up points of confusion, things the general public may assume that are wrong. For example, legal shows have sometimes portrayed things that are simply fallacies. When I read about them, I was quite surprised and happy to learn the truth of the matter. I appreciated the enlightening quotes thrown in from experts who work in the field.

Even if I weren’t a writer, The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom would be a great, fun book to read, but it requires a little concentration.

There is a helpful bibliography at the end with books and Web sites listed where a reader might find more information on the topic. The index in the back of the book makes it easy to find specific things, for example, Civil Procedure or Trial judges.

To all writers who want to write a legal story, or to those whose just want to know more about how the system works, pick up this book! You’ll learn a lot and smile a time or two in the process.


I emailed the author and asked for a short list of authors whose work is realistic in case you're interested; I know I am. She kindly responded with:

"As to books that are accurate with a legal theme, Paul Levine, Brad Meltzer,
John Grisham and Scott Turow are all lawyers who write courtroom scenes that
are pretty accurate."

Thanks to a classy lady who wrote a helpful book. -Laura

1 comment :

Deb ~ tnshadylady said...

Thanks for the great review! This definitely sounds like a resource book every writer needs on the shelf.