Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Courtroom - Finest Legal Biography

This is the seventh post of the series 'LegalTrek'. The last post was 'National Court of Appeal - Not A Good Idea' and the next few posts will be about the  legal autobiographies/ biographies. This post is about a book titled 'Courtroom', the finest legal biography that I have read.

We have talked about MC Setalvad's autobiography 'My Life'. He was the first Attorney General of India. His autobiography is informative about the Constitutional developments at the initial stages. After first year of LLB, when I had finished Constitutional law, it was good reading but is not an inspiring book. It does not inspire you to become a lawyer; perhaps, the reason is better illustrated by MC Chagla in his autobiography 'Roses in December'. 

In his autobiography, Chagla says, 
'I have never known a man, who has less emotions than he [MC Setalvad], or any rate show less emotion than he does.' (page 58)
This is how Setalvad wrote his autobiography – drab, without emotions and feelings. But in the second year of my LLB, I was presented a book that changed my opinion about being a lawyer.

Kailash Mehra is our neighbour in Banda and did his studies from the Allahabad University. He was a few years senior than me. There used to be Anil Book stall in civil lines. It used to deal with second hand  books and used to have some amazing books. Kailash got a old second hand book titled 'Courtroom' written by Quentin Reynolds from the stall. It is a biography of Samuel Leibowitz (August 14, 1893 – January 11, 1978) - America's leading criminal trial  court lawyer in the first half of the last century. In the later years, he became a judge. This book changed my views about being a lawyer. I thought and still think, it is great to be a lawyer.

I have read almost all autobiographies as well as biographies of persons connected with law but have not come across a more inspiring book than 'Courtroom'. It is a book that every aspiring lawyer should read. It should be read by the judges as well as the book narrates how he dealt with cases, when he became a judge.  

I have decided about twelve hundred criminal appeals as a judge; almost all of them arising from conviction under section 302 IPC (murder). Many a time, the appeals reminded me of the cases dealt by Samuel Leibowitz. I wished the trial court advocate had taken different stand before the trial court. Had he done so, then the conviction could have been easily - and not unreasonably, as often done by the appellate courts - converted into conviction under section 304 IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder).

Samuel Leibowitz was born on 14th August 1893 in Romania. His father migrated to US in 1897. At that time, their family name was Lebeau but after migration, their friends advised them to Americanise it and Lebeau became Leibowitz.

Leibowitz in his student life enjoyed debates and elocution. I regret for not participating in debates and elocution though some of my best friends – Prabhu Dayal, Raj M Manglik, and Namir F Khan - were very good at it. Moot court is a good idea and should be included in law courses but there is nothing to beat extempore debating. It sharpens one's thinking. Elocution has its own advantage: dramatics is part of a lawyer's life.

Leibowitz took up law on his father's advice and completed his law education from Cornell University. By the end of first quarter of the 20th century, he became a leading criminal trial lawyer in US. Later, he became a Judge and died on 11th February 1978. It is interesting to note as to how Leibowitz got his first case and what happened in that. In the next few posts, we will talk about some cases from the book.

#LegalTrek #YatindraSingh 
#Courtroom #SamuelLeibowitz

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