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Bar News - November 15, 2013

Book Review: Spinning the Law: Trying Cases in the Court of Public Opinion, by Kendall Coffey


Prometheus Books 2010

When I was a law student, I was naïve in some sense: I didn’t think public opinion and the media had any impact in the courtroom. It wasn’t supposed to, right? Justice is blind, right? Civil and criminal juries were supposed to be fair and impartial and decide the facts based only on what was presented to them during trial.

Since then, though, my own experience and the experiences recounted in Kendall Coffey’s book, Spinning the Law: Trying Cases in the Court of Public Opinion, have shown that cases are impacted by what happens outside the courtroom. In fact, Mr. Coffey’s working thesis is that the spin factor is a major player in courtroom battles and can be effectively used by attorneys outside of the courtroom with an eye towards impacting what occurs inside the courtroom (ethically of course!).

In his book, Coffey looks at some of the biggest cases in recent memory and analyzes how each side’s spinning of the case impacted the outcome. Some of the cases included O.J. Simpson, Elian Gonzalez, Scott Peterson, and Bush v. Gore (which the author was actually involved in). He provides an in-depth yet highly accessible and interesting analysis of how the spin in each case affected the verdict.

Some chapters deal with prosecutors and whether they should use spin (Mike Nifong, anyone?) and defense attorneys. All the chapters provide tips and suggestions for how and when to spin the law and your case.

The result is a handbook with practical examples that everyone is familiar with and a powerful debunking of many of the popular myths surrounding many legal concepts (for instance, that circumstantial evidence is not considered to be as important under the law as direct evidence). He provides tremendous guidance in a way that does not cast aspersion on the lawyer’s use of the media in getting his or her point across.

In addition to being informative, this book was a quick and entertaining read. I enjoyed being taken down memory lane with high-profile cases through the years and found that I learned something at the same time (always a bonus). Coffey’s many entertaining examples and explanations make this book enjoyable reading for anyone fascinated by celebrity legal problems, but a must-read for lawyers, public relations professionals, journalists, and law students.

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