Sometimes when writing a review, actions speak louder than words. THE LAWYER’S LAWYER by James Sheehan is the law professor’s third work of courtroom fiction but the first of his books that I have read. Immediately upon completing it, I logged on to my public library’s web page and requested copies of THE MAYOR OF LEXINGTON AVENUE and THE LAW OF SECOND CHANCES, Sheehan’s first two books. When a novel leaves the reader wanting more, there can be no greater endorsement.
James Sheehan was a successful trial attorney for 30 years. After retirement he commenced a second career, teaching trial advocacy at Stetson Law School in Tampa, Florida. In addition, he writes fast-paced courtroom thrillers that are compelling in their plots, characters and attention to contemporary legal issues.
"It is difficult to say more about the twists and turns of THE LAWYER’S LAWYER without spoiling what is a remarkable and ingenious plot; I will only say that they are engrossing.... Sheehan’s writing is part John Grisham, part Erle Stanley Gardner, and a substantial portion of his own style."
As a trial attorney and judge for a few years myself, I must confess that I could not truly enjoy legal fiction until I grudgingly accepted the fact that in this genre, plot must trump truth. As you turn the pages of a courtroom novel, you cannot demand strict adherence to the rules of evidence or logic. If you cannot accept the occasional plot twist that defies rational behavior, then you need to be reading something else. But if you are willing to do so, then James Sheehan is your kind of writer.
Jack Tobin is Sheehan’s protagonist, and his career mirrors that of his real-life creator. Tobin was a successful attorney in Florida, building a large law firm and then retiring to a small Florida town where he now has the luxury of selecting his clients. Of course he only chooses individuals who he truly believes are innocent. In many instances, his caseload comes from a Florida innocence project, one of many burgeoning organizations located across the nation, which is devoted to the cases of the wrongfully imprisoned. Tobin agrees to represent Thomas Felton, a young law student convicted of brutal and gruesome murders and scheduled for execution on Florida’s death row. The Felton case creates legal and moral dilemmas for Tobin, and eventually he finds himself in a courtroom occupying the chair normally reserved for the defendant.
It is difficult to say more about the twists and turns of THE LAWYER’S LAWYER without spoiling what is a remarkable and ingenious plot; I will only say that they are engrossing. Along the way, Sheehan finds the time to make important comments about the workings of our legal system, including its strengths and flaws.
Sheehan’s novel concludes with an epic courtroom battle. In those scenes, the author shows his skill as both a trial attorney and a writer. The scenes almost read as though they were actual transcripts of trial proceedings. Granted, there are occasional “Perry Mason” moments, but those events do not detract from the overall realistic portrayal of an American courtroom.
Sheehan’s writing is part John Grisham, part Erle Stanley Gardner, and a substantial portion of his own style. You can read THE LAWYER’S LAWYER without having looked at either of his previous books, or you can check out those novels first. Regardless of your choice, just as I did, you will eventually sink your teeth into all three.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 18, 2013