Book Review of “The Mother Court”

When an author writes a book about his or her lengthy and distinguished career and infuses the text with an endless passion for their work, the reader’s attention is likely to be quickly captured. It is rare indeed when someone truly loves what they do and can convincingly convey their experiences, insights and commentary for all readers to thoroughly enjoy and absorb the lessons within. Attorney and author James D. Zirin has done a masterful job of achieving this informative and entertaining mix in his new book entitled The Mother Court: Tales of Cases that Mattered in America’s Greatest Trial Court (American Bar Association, 2014).

The “Mother Court” is the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY). Mr. Zirin has had a remarkable career which has provided him a wealth of material to explore. He began his career as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the SDNY, working for Robert Morgenthau. He then continued on to become a distinguished trial attorney in private practice. He is a prolific writer and the host of the ongoing TV show Conversations in the Digital Age. (Click through the link above to his site to review his extensive work richly linked within it.)

The book is organized into sections about a series of landmark cases tried in the SDNY, trial techniques, judges he has appeared before, the changes and challenges in the court during his career all the way through modern trial technology and sentencing guidelines. His skillful prose, storytelling technique*, and endless enthusiasm for the law and respect for the SDNY as an institution, permeate each page. I believe he would have achieved the same possession of the reader’s attention if he had, in some alternative life, been almost anything else from a doctor to professor to inventor.

He presents an insightful array of legal practice stories and subject analyses that are not just meant to be “inside baseball” for lawyers only, but rather, a genuine and granular sense of litigation practice from his admiring point of view. Thus, I believe that anyone who works in the legal profession as well as anyone who does not, will enjoy reading Zirin’s paean to the SDNY.

In the midst of all this legal lore, there is also a brief and hilarious story near the end about a sidebar conference during a trial concerning an observer in the courtroom who might have been creating a distraction. The inclusion and execution of it also speaks very well of the author’s literary craft.

Returning to a concise and critical phrase we always used to include in all of our book reports at Public School 79 in Queens, I definitely recommend this book to everyone in the class.


*  See also this Subway Fold post on November 4, 2014 about the power of effective storytelling.

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