I’m still in NYC writing on Music Notes and enjoying the holiday season - as I hope you are! Today we have as our guest best selling author, Larry A. Winters!
When I read Larry’s post, “Why courtrooms make such exciting settings”, I knew he would be a great addition to the line-up of attorney guest bloggers and invited him right away. Larry writes the best-selling Jessie Black Legal Thriller series, and his books have garnered hundreds of five star reviews on Amazon. You’ll see why when you read his post below.
Why Do You Read Legal Thrillers by Larry A. Winters
Legal thrillers are awesome. And I’m not just saying that because I write them. There’s a reason we don’t see many retail thrillers or agricultural thrillers (or writer thrillers, for that matter), while books aboutlawyers and the legal profession continue to top bestseller lists year after year. As someone with a vested interest in the subject, I’ve given a lot of thought about why this is the case. I don’t have a definitive answer, but I believe two aspects of the genre are particularly important to its success.
Most legal thrillers feature a lawyer as the hero, so it stands to reason that most legal thriller fans probably enjoy reading about lawyers. But why? Doesn’t everyone hate lawyers? Turns out they don’t—in fiction, anyway. In fiction, people love lawyers.
I believe the reason—or one reason, anyway—is that in fiction, the lawyer is a champion of other people. A person who battles against great odds to achieve something for his or herself is an exciting character who is fun to read about, but a person who battles against great odds to help someone else is on a whole other level. We love and admire people who fight for others. Lawyers represent clients, and therefore fit neatly into this role.
Now, in real life, with some notable exceptions (pro bono representation of an indigent client, for example), most lawyers aren’t purely altruistic—they bill by the hour. But in a legal thriller, amassing legal fees isn’t usually even a part of the hero’s goal. Instead, the lawyer is usually portrayed as a defender of the underdog or a seeker of justice, with a singleminded and selfless drive to help his or her client or society in general. In my Jessie Black Legal Thriller series, for example, Jessie bonds with victims and witnesses, and is motivated by a powerful need to attain justice on their behalf. You won’t find any scenes in which she demands a raise.
In reality, lawyers are just ordinary people. (Trust me—I am one.) But in fiction, a lawyer is often singe-handedly engaged in an epic showdown between good and evil, fighting on behalf of someone in need. Who wouldn’t root for a hero like that?
The other half of the equation, I believe, is the courtroom. Not all legal thrillers include courtroom scenes, but many do. A lot of readers, myself included, find courtroom scenes particularly satisfying.
A trial is similar in some ways to a game or a sport. It is a competition, played by one lawyer against another, governed by rules, and at the end, one side has decisively won. On some deep psychological level, we love watching games, and I believe we derive similar enjoyment from a good courtroom conflict.
Like baseball, football, or any other popular sport, litigation is governed by rules, and is a contest to see which side is more adept at playing the game within those rules. And in a trial, there are a lot of rules. There are phases to a trial with which most readers are at least somewhat familiar—jury selection, direct and cross-examination of witnesses, closing arguments. We like to see the “plays” run by clever lawyers. There are maneuvers, such as motions and objections. There is even a scoreboard, in the form of the number of jurors swayed to either side. We root for the players in the courtroom in the same way we root for athletes in a nail-bitingly close game.
I’m not the world’s biggest sports fan, but if you put a compelling match in front of me, I’ll be on the edge of my seat right through the climactic moment when the game is tied, time is running out, and the team of lovable underdogs is on the brink of either taking the trophy or losing it all. A good courtroom scene delivers the same rush. I strive to capture this sense of excitement in my own books, which is why I try to build courtroom showdowns as pivotal moments in the Jessie Black novels.
Ultimately, what we find entertaining is subjective. The popularity of the legal thriller cannot be scientifically explained. But it’s my theory that unique aspects of the lawyer and the courtroom are big factors in the genre’s massive success. Do you agree? Why do you read legal thrillers?
Shameless plug: Readers love the Jessie Black Legal Thrillers series. Check out the first book, Burnout, here.