M & A Law Prof Blog

Editor: Brian JM Quinn
Boston College Law School

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Scoundrels in Law

Scoundrels  Another edition of things I'm reading cause it's summer:  Scoundrels in Law: The Trials of Howe and Hummel, Lawyers to the Gansters, Cops, Starlets, and Rakes Who Made the Gilded Age by Cait Murphy.  This is a great book about the practice of law in the 19th century.  It will take you back to the days of "Tearful Tom" Shearman and his partner, John Sterling.  You remember them, right?  I think their firm is still around.   Anyway, Tearful Tom was known not only for representing Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, but also for being able to turn on the tears in front of a jury at a moments notice.  This type of over the top performance was typical of lawyers of the Gilded Age.  Who does that now?  When was the last time you saw someone drop to their knees during a negotiation to beg for a provision, or bawl at a deposition?!

Murphy reminds us that the Gilded Age was really the Wild West for the practice of law.  Howe and his partner Hummel were ready and willing to bribe judges, hire witnesses, suborn perjury - whatever was required to get their clients off.  These two even had a side role as lawyers in the trial of Diamond Jim Fisk's murderer. Scoundrels in Law takes the reader from Delmonico's to the Tombs in a tour of the 19th century legal profession in New York City.  They weren't doing big deals, but I bet they were having fun.   Every student of law should read this very entertaining and informative book in conjunction with their legal ethics class! 

-bjmq

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