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Lawyer: A Life of Counsel and Controversy

By Arthur L. Liman, with the assistance of Peter Israel

Lawyer.gifArthur L. Liman's autobiography, completed just before his death, is a captivating review of his illustrious career.

386 pages
Public Affairs (1998)

Reviewed by: Eric Howard

Arthur L. Liman is perhaps most widely remembered as one of the lawyers who questioned witnesses at the Iran-Contra hearings. Liman, however, was much more than the litigator who grilled Vice Admiral John Poindexter, among others, on national television. Liman also served as counsel to Steve Ross, William Paley, Charles Bluhdorn, and Michael Milken. In public service, he prosecuted some of the most notorious con artists of Wall Street, argued successfully for the disbarment of Richard Nixon, and investigated the riot and its aftermath at Attica. Liman's career was as rich, varied, and engrossing as any lawyer could hope.

Roy Cohn, by his bad example, made Liman want to be a good lawyer, one with a conscience. As a federal prosecutor, he took on both Wall Street crooks and, in one case, a bar owner who watered down his liquor (a violation of federal law). Liman then joined the highly rated firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, working as a trial attorney in complex, high-level corporate cases. After the disaster at Attica in 1971, Liman was asked to serve on the McKay commission, which had the task of investigating what had happened. The commission's report was nominated for a National Book Award. Shortly thereafter, Liman began to work on novel class-action lawsuits in the public interest, and served as president of the Legal Aid Society of New York.

When merger mania struck in the 1980s, Liman advised CEOs on how to structure their deals, representing, for example, Lazard Frères in Penzoil v. Texaco, which settled for $3 billion. Liman also represented Milken, and in his book argues that Milken was tarred by the media and envious Wall Streeters.

In a book full of engrossing anecdotes of crime, punishment, big business, and legal legerdemain, Liman demonstrates that he honored his initial promise to be a lawyer with a moral compass. He offers this anecdote regarding Poindexter:
Finally, there was the story of the uniform. Early in the investigation, Senator Inouye had called Poindexter and his attorney into his office to try to persuade Poindexter not to invoke the Fifth Amendment and insist on immunity. Inouye told Poindexter that he respected his constitutional rights and that he had fought a war to protect them. Then he talked about his comrades who'd lost their lives on the battlefield during World War II, and with his voice almost choking, he told Poindexter that it dishonored the uniform for a military officer to invoke the privilege against self-incrimination like an ordinary criminal defendant.

Poindexter replied that he felt the same way....he pledged to Inouye that he wouldn't wear his uniform when he testified!

Lawyer: A Life of Counsel and Controversy describes a legal career of such accomplishment, variety, controversy, and engagement that it will arouse the envy not only of lawyers but also of leading members of other professions. This is the kind of book that can inspire people to begin law school.

Eric Howard is associate editor of Los Angeles Lawyer.