Vol. 84, No. 3, March 2011
The Cross-Examination Edge: A Guide to Effective Questioning
By Peter D. Polchinski (Tucson, AZ: Lawyers & Judges Publishing Co., 2010). 70 pgs. $40. Order, email@example.com.
Reviewed by John A. Becker
The Cross-Examination Edge: A Guide to Effective Questioning, by Peter Polchinski, is a book that should be in every trial lawyer’s library. It is short and direct and covers basic rules that every trial attorney should follow.
There are many good books on effective cross-examination, but many are long and act as reference books that an attorney might only refer to occasionally if he or she anticipates encountering an issue with a particular witness. This book provides a good and effective review of some of the basic principles of cross-examination.
Every trial attorney has his or her own style in the courtroom. One thing my first employer told me was that I should be myself and not try to imitate someone else’s style. Although there are as many different styles of trying a case as there are lawyers, there are still certain principles of cross-examination that all lawyers should follow. This book does not suggest that one style or another is better but deals with various ways of attacking a witness’s direct testimony.
It is rare that a witness’s testimony is totally destroyed on cross-examination. The main purpose of cross-examination is to weaken the testimony of the witness as much as possible. The author reviews various ways of challenging a witness’s testimony, and he also gives good examples of how this is accomplished.
There is probably nothing in the book that any experienced trial attorney does not already know. However, this book is an excellent review. At 70 pages, it is easy to read and should be read before each trial and occasionally just as a refresher, rather than be used as a reference book if you have a particular question about cross-examination.
Divorce in the Golden Years: Estate Planning, Spousal Support and Retirement Issues for Clients at Midlife and Beyond
By Leslie Ann Shaner (Chicago, IL: ABA Family Law Section, 2010). 388 pgs. + CD-ROM. $119.95. Order, (800) 285-2221.
Reviewed by Kari Niesen-LaScala
As Leslie Ann Shaner points out, it is hard for couples who divorce to face the daunting prospect of starting their lives over; for clients who are approaching their golden years or who have reached this phase in their lives, it can be overwhelming. She notes that many couples in long-term marriages have been together since their teenage years. This book focuses on the Baby Boomer generation, whose defining moments include the Cuban missile crisis; the Cold War; the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King; the civil rights movement; and the landing on the moon.
A recurring theme in the book is the importance of knowing the socioeconomic factors relating to people of this generation. For example, men were often the primary breadwinners and many women did not work outside the home. Additionally, the author repeatedly stresses that lawyers need to be aware of the potential consequences of a client’s death both during and after divorce and to plan accordingly so as not to encounter disastrous or unintended consequences. She discusses this possibility in the context of nonprobate assets, intestacy situations, wills and trusts, and powers of attorney and medical directives. A chapter is dedicated to each of the above, with detailed explanations as to what divorce-related issues to be aware of. One of the example cases concerns a life insurance policy awarded to the ex-wife because the husband never changed the beneficiary on his policy. Although there was a “mutual release” claim in the divorce decree, the life insurance policy was never specifically addressed.
Spousal support, equitable distribution factors, methods of payment, and retirement plans are discussed very thoroughly in individual chapters. The author notes how important it is to bring significant aspects of the marriage to the court’s attention, especially in long-term marriages. Also discussed are tax consequences and the importance of keeping current economic conditions in mind when negotiating with opposing attorneys and preparing for trial.
It is obvious that the author is very knowledgeable in family law matters, especially those relating to the financial aspects of divorce. The book is written more in textbook form than a conversational style but is very well organized. The author often refers to specific state statutes, and the book’s appendices contain family law-related statutes as well as checklists for attorneys. This would be a good resource for both beginning lawyers and those seasoned in the area of family law.
The Lawyer’s Guide to Working Smarter With Knowledge Tools
By Marc Lauritsen (Chicago, IL: ABA Law Practice Management Section , 2010). 244 pgs. $79.95. Order, www.ababooks.org.
Reviewed by Sarah J. Read
I offered to review this book because I have used some “knowledge tools” and studied others and thought the book might be a good introductory resource for some of my law-practice-management clients. Overall, I was disappointed.
The author defines knowledge tools as “software with significant knowledge content that does something, that applies or processes knowledge, beyond just storing or moving it.” Although a range of tools and potential applications is discussed and the author clearly knows a lot about his subject, the coverage of most concepts is cursory and the presentation disjointed. Overall, the book reads like a series of notes that were sorted into piles and then joined together without the effort needed to make a coherent whole, accessible to the busy lawyer. Metaphors are introduced and then abandoned in favor of new ones. “Mind-opening” statements, like a conceptual interlude on “windmills and flywheels,” are not integrated well with examples of applications. Conversely, some of the technical summaries are not unpacked adequately for the introductory reader.
Several sections of the book are oddly self-indulgent, as, for example, when the author shares his views on such topics as presidential elections and whether Shakespeare actually authored his plays. Other sections are derisive of lawyers who do not use knowledge tools (example: “[m]uch current legal work is embarassingly, absurdly wasteful”), even as the text acknowledges that such tools can be costly, difficult to maintain, and contribute to bad practices. Are some law practices inefficient? Yes, but for those that are, this book would be an unlikely guide to help with implementing new tools.
Readers willing to sort through the various chapters will find some useful checklists, such as questions to ask when differentiating applications, the benefits of document-assembly tools, various features to consider in comparing “practice system authoring software alternatives,” and suggestions for adjusting billing to capture from clients the value added by knowledge tools. Chapter 14, titled “Choosing Smarter,” contains a good explanation of how to construct a “choicebox” to better analyze and evaluate alternatives. The author has also included links to various sites where updates or more in-depth analyses can be found, as well as a useful set of reviews of other books on technology. The detailed index can also help the reader quickly find where specific tools are discussed in the text.