Cover image for Trial and error : the education of a courtroom lawyer
Trial and error : the education of a courtroom lawyer
Tucker, John C., 1934-
Personal Author:
First Carroll and Graf edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf Publishers : Distributed by Publishers Group West, [2003]

Physical Description:
357 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF373.T833 A3 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Trial and Error is a legal memoir that gives an unvarnished account of life as one of America's leading trial lawyers; detailing the path from nervous novice to the top of the legal profession. In 1958, John C. Tucker began a legal career that would lead the Chicago Tribune to call him "one of Chicago's finest and most idiosyncratic trial lawyers." Now, in a book reminiscent of Scott Turow's classic One L, Tucker employs painstaking honesty and fascinating detail to illuminate the difficult steps in learning the trial trade and the reality of life as one of the country's leading civil and criminal trial lawyers. Free of the impenetrable language and self-congratulation found in the memoirs of many trial lawyers' memoirs, Tucker skillfully chronicles an extraordinary variety of engrossing cases. From the infamous 1969 trial of the "Chicago Eight" war protesters--including Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden and Bobbie Seale, heard before the notorious Judge Julius Hoffman--to one of the most important civil rights cases of the era, the Supreme Court decision that spelled the death knell for the corrupt political patronage system in Mayor Daley's Chicago, Tucker's career spanned three decades of legal landmarks. In Trial and Error Tucker becomes the star witness whose crisp prose and penetrating voice carries readers rung by rung up the legal ladder, altering common misconceptions of lawyers and their craft. Relating both the highs and lows, while also recounting tales from the trial of a giant Mafia gambling ring to a legal showdown with heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, Tucker gives aspiring young attorneys, law students, recent graduates, and all fans of courtroom drama--and comedy--the chance to see it all through the eyes of the man in the middle of the ring.

Author Notes

John C. Tucker attended Princeton University and the University of Michigan Law School before joining the Chicago law firm Jenner & Block

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Tucker, a respected lawyer and retired partner in a prestigious Chicago law firm, highlights some of his most interesting cases and casts light on a past era that still resonates with us today. Tucker recounts his baptism in practical trial experience, his firm's pro bono criminal representation, and his appearances before the U.S. Supreme Court, all of which provided insights into social and racial disparities. His firm undertook the landmark Contract Buyer League case, ultimately losing the case but still casting some light on a dual racial housing market and its inequities, which persist to this day. His most famous public interest case was the defense of the Chicago Eight, the major protesters involved in the demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic convention that provoked police violence. Tucker's client list has included Mafia affiliates as well as heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. Tucker provides a glance at high courtroom drama as well as the flaws in our judicial system, offering an excellent read for those interested in popular American culture and the legal system. --Vernon Ford

Publisher's Weekly Review

Midlife crisis or not, at 51 Tucker made an unusual career move: he gave up his partnership and six-figure income with the prestigious Chicago law firm of Jenner and Block to write about legal issues that interested him. In his newest (after May God Have Mercy), he turns to professional autobiography and chronicles several of the major cases that shaped his views about the law. Mercifully, they transcend the kind of "war stories" too often told by middle-aged lawyers at cocktail parties. Tucker argued twice before the Supreme Court: his first case involved the question of mental illness and a person's competency to stand trial; the second concerned the controversial practice of patronage hiring (and firing). Tucker prevailed in each, although his first client subsequently fired him for suggesting the use of an insanity defense, even though this was the very issue that had been taken to the Supreme Court. Tucker takes it in stride: "I had long since learned that a client's gratitude is a fragile reed." Despite great material, however, Tucker displays a couple of unfortunate tendencies that lessen the book's impact. First, there's frequently more detail than the general reader needs and, as a result, Tucker's points are buried by needless digressions and asides. Second, while he makes no bones about his biases, sometimes the potshots that he takes at his legal adversaries, particularly Chief Justice Rehnquist, are so unwarranted that they undercut Tucker's credibility. These reservations aside, the author enjoyed the kind of career that most lawyers dream about, and his reflections will be of interest to those in the profession. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved