VERDICT: It’s a Keeper
Forensic Psychiatry: A Lawyer’s Guide
By Vivian Chern Shnaidman (Cambridge, MA: Academic Press, Elsevier Inc., 2016). 196 pgs. $71.51. Order, www.amazon.com.
Reviewed by Annabelle Vang
Forensic Psychiatry provides an effective roadmap to use psychiatric experts in the legal field. Whether you have no experience using expert witnesses or your practice is well versed in the matter, this book is a helpful resource. The author, Vivian Chern Shnaidman, maintains a private practice focusing on forensic psychiatry and has provided expert testimony in a multitude of cases.
Shnaidman begins by describing incidents in which a lawyer may require the expertise of a psychiatrist. Drawing on her past experiences as an expert witness, she describes cases she worked on. She references several anecdotes and exhibits no sympathy in pointing out the flaws in both corrupt expert witnesses and disillusioned legal officials. Surprisingly, she brings forth a sarcastic humor in many of these stories. The book references interviews Shnaidman conducted with various lawyers in a wide range of practices and demonstrates the usefulness of psychiatric experts in laws ranging from family, immigration, and criminal, to employment and many more.
The book discusses psychiatric symptoms that lawyers should be aware of when evaluating clients. Shnaidman provides a brief summary of symptoms that lawyers could potentially see in a client, how to best aid clients, and how to incorporate this knowledge into your approach with clients.
Finally, Shnaidman suggests how to find a quality expert, what to expect from psychiatric reports, and how to approach the opposing party’s expert witness. She provides a sample report, and breaks down the basics of what every report should include. A helpful portion includes recommendations on the best way to attack an opposing party’s expert witness report and how to avoid common errors in your attack.
Overall, Shnaidman provides a comprehensive, easy-to-understand guide that relates to lawyers practicing in all fields. In what had the potential to be a dry read, Shnaidman provides real-life experiences from various perspectives while incorporating her own personality and flare. Her continuous references to particular cases keep the reader engaged in the text and make the material more relatable.
Annabelle K. Vang, Marquette 2014, is an associate with Kowalski Family Law LLC in Madison.
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VERDICT: Not for Me, Maybe for You
Rebuilding Justice: Civil Courts in Jeopardy and Why You Should Care
By Rebecca L. Kourlis & Dirk Olin (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2016). 256 pgs. $16.95. Order, www.fulcrumbooks.com.
Reviewed by Mary Sowinski
There can be no debating the authors’ passion for writing Rebuilding Justice, and their commitment to civil court reform is laudable. However, I found myself questioning whether this book was the best use of the authors’ time, effort, and resources.
Both authors, formerly a journalist and a judge and now think-tank directors, certainly have the chops for this endeavor. But it doesn’t take much convincing for almost anyone who has participated in a court case recently to believe that American courthouses are congested and inefficient, and that this puts the system’s legitimacy at risk. The authors rightly laud the importance of the jury trial to our founding as a nation and demonize the paucity of publicly available system data that would allow lawyers and citizens to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of current court systems.
But they rely too heavily on heartfelt, clichéd arguments to make their point, such as “[w]e need twenty-first-century procedures for twenty-first-century lawsuits,” and “[w]e must not sacrifice the good at the altar of the perfect.” These arguments are stale and unhelpful in two respects.
First, they rely on utopian solutions such as improved civics education to restore the importance of the jury trial and merit-based judicial selection to appoint leadership for reform to the bench. Dryly citing Alexander Hamilton in defense of the jury system while “Hamilton” is doing hip-hop on Broadway feels dated and academic. And their primary argument, that the federal rules of civil procedure desperately need reform, by their own admission will do nothing anytime soon for the majority of American litigants stuck in state courts. To those of us drowning in paper files daily, such solutions seem remote.
In addition, this 2016 paperback release appears to rely solely on the statistical arguments in the original 2011 edition. A lengthy chapter on what the authors believe is the abject failure of U.S. schools to teach civics in a meaningful way relies on 2008 test scores. The analysis of state and federal court filings cites numbers from 2008 and 2010, respectively. In a world in which people Google everything and anything for up-to-the-minute statistics, these out-of-date numbers are of limited relevance. Blogs, websites, and other social media seem better suited to making the authors’ arguments in a compelling way using current examples and statistics.
As a recent attendee at an ABA conference inspired by the potential for technology to transform our legal system, I was excited to read this book and hoped for similar inspiration. Instead, I was disappointed to find no mention of solutions with more potential for immediate systemic reform, such as the ability of states to incentivize local innovation using state funding formulas. More recent, specific examples of technological improvements for replication by lawyers would also improve the content.
But these suggestions must be more dramatic than online tools for jurors. The authors rightly, in my view, believe that each lawyer, judge, and citizen is part of the problem if we are not part of the solution. We deserve a more current and inspirational call to arms.
Mary M. Sowinski, U.W. 1998, operates Sowinski Legal Services LLC, in Three Lakes.