In Approaching the Bench: Tales of a Personal Injury Lawyer, attorney Jan Weinberg shares some of his most fascinating cases over a career that has spanned decades. Beginning with stories of his time at Harvard Law School-years marked by anxiety and skipping classes-to his first assignment to a client while still a law student, and then being a partner in a law firm and finally practicing on his own in Hawaii, Weinberg offers a revealing portrait of not only the clients, judges, and opponents he faced in the courtroom, but also a look at how being a lawyer at times affected his personal life.
Anyone who loves good courtroom drama will find much to enjoy in this book. There are fascinating details about how Weinberg researches his cases and finds precedents for his arguments; there are female clients more interested in hitting on him than having him defend them, and there are some heart-wrenching stories of clients who desperately needed someone to stand up and fight for their rights, and Weinberg was able to do that for them.
While I can’t detail every story here, I’ll briefly mention a few of my favorites. One case Weinberg wasn’t involved in but that was a key case he learned about in law school was the case of the hairy hand-in this case, a doctor did a skin graft by taking skin from a patient’s chest and using it for his hand-when chest hair grew on the patient’s hand, the patient was not happy. This case is one every good law student apparently knows about.
In Weinberg’s first case, which he was assigned while still a law student through Harvard Legal Aid, he handled a divorce. He quickly discovered how much he still needed to learn despite his law school training. His client was getting divorced for the first time, but her friend, who accompanied her to her appointment with Weinberg, had been divorced three times and apparently knew more about court protocol when it came to divorce cases than he did, so he learned a thing or two from her.
In another case, Weinberg was assigned to do some research in a pro bono case where a partner was representing a convicted bank robber in his appeal. The conviction was based on an identification of the client’s left elbow that was hanging out of the getaway car’s window.
Throughout his career, Weinberg has proven himself very good at researching his cases and preparing for trial as well as examining and cross-examining witnesses. As Weinberg states at one point, “So, if an attorney isn’t willing to spend time after hours and on weekends to think about cases while walking, gardening, working out, and even performing basic bodily functions, to research, to question, and to worry, then an area of law other than a personal injury practice would almost certainly be a better fit.” Weinberg’s stories and results testify to the fact that he was always, like Perry Mason, trying to figure out his cases and strategy from every angle possible.