Trials are interesting things. While I personally feel that they are far too often about gamesmanship and less about the truth (especially today, when the media has effectively turned the criminal justice system into a spectator sport – next, the talking heads will be scoring lawyers like Olympic athletes or something), the reality is that in our adversary system it is the lawyer's job to present his or her client's story to the jury. The opening and closing statements are where the lawyer has the opportunity to clearly articulate to the jury (or the judge, if it is a trial to the court) what they think the case is about and how it should be handled.
I've been in many courtrooms over the years, in many different positions. When my wife was sued as a result of a minor fender-bender years ago (an accident that did essentially cosmetic damage to both vehicles but which supposedly harmed the plaintiff to the tune of untold thousands of "soft tissue" injury) I got to be an interested spectator, if not actually the defendant. I've litigated cases and been on both sides of the decision (i.e., I've won and I've lost, and yes, winning is more fun and makes the client happier and more likely to pay the bill). I've served on a jury (not in my home state of Oklahoma, where lawyers, like felons, are statutorily ineligible to serve, but in the north woods of Wisconsin). And as a law clerk to a judge, I've been privy to many deliberations.
I've actually seen the likely outcome swing back and forth as the lawyers offered their closing argument – although that, to be honest, is a rarity. I've seen effective advocacy and argument and I've witnessed (and undoubtedly offered) argument that could best be characterized as "lame." But it must be admitted that if there is one aspect of the judicial process that is more theatrical and more interesting than virtually any other it is argument: the openings and closings that can crystallize the outcome, in which lawyers on both sides have their shot at convincing the jury of their version of reality.
In the Interest of Justice is therefore a fascinating book. Unlike Alan Dershowitz's recent book America on Trial, Joel Seidemann (a Manhattan Assistant District Attorney) focuses not so much on cases as he does on argument. Where Dershowitz analyzed some of the legal battles that "transformed" our nation, Seidemann examines the text of specific arguments – often in order to demonstrate not only how the legal system works, but how society is reflected (if not overtly shaped) through the prism of words. From O.J. Simpson to Marv Albert, from Jeffrey MacDonald (the Green Beret "Doctor of Death") to the trial of Adolf Eichmann, from the Scopes "Monkey Trial" to the mysterious case of Karen Silkwood, Seidemann has collected some two dozen of the "most memorable" opening and closing arguments of the last century.