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Lawyer's Poker
The idea behind LAWYERS’ POKER: 52 LESSONS THAT LAWYERS CAN LEARN FROM CARD PLAYERS (Oxford University Press: 2006) by Steven Lubert is simple: Take a bunch of poker stories and a roughly equal number of lawyer stories and mix them together to teach lessons about playing poker, practicing law and living a moral and fulfilling life.

Just in case anyone doesn’t get the point, the 52 lessons are numbered from one to 13 in four categories, Diamonds: Maximizing Your Winnings, Clubs: Controlling the Opposition, Spades: Digging for Information, and Hearts: Ethics and Character.

The four of spades, for example, is “Get What You Need.” Lubert first describes the climatic scenes in Rounders, where Mike McDermott, the Matt Damon character, discovers that his opponent, KGB, has a tell. McDermott lays down the top two pair after the flop, to put KGB, who had flopped a straight, on tilt.

Lubert then describes how F. Lee Bailey “made a similar play in the O.J. Simpson trial,” getting Detective Mark Furhman to testify, under oath, that he had never used the word “nigger.” This later turned out to be a lie, which Bailey and Simpson’s other lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, used to undermine all of Furhman’s testimony.

Although these are interesting anecdotes, they have a few problems. Lubert accepts as true the after-the-trial assertion from Bailey, a notorious self-promoter, that he had read Furhman’s tell. Worse, he believes the jury foreperson: “I could tell by the way he twisted around in his seat and clenched his hands in his lap, that he was lying.” Remember this is from the O.J. Simpson jury.

Poker is a game, but should we admire game-playing by morally bankrupt trial lawyers who enabled a vicious killer to go free?

The book can be an enjoyable read, once you overlook the contrived listing of exactly 52 lessons, and the sometimes forced attempt to connect two almost completely different worlds. Lubet does a good job, for example, of explaining pot odds and tying it to decisions lawyers have to make, such as what questions to ask hostile witnesses.

I have only two minor problems with the work, as well as one major one.

First, the title should have been “Litigators’ Poker.” Lubert is an expert on trial strategy, and trials almost always make for interesting stories. But non-lawyers may get the impression that the practice of law is only concerned with preparing for and going to trial. There is very little that would be of interest to lawyers who don’t go to court.

Second, Lubert has the annoying, politically correct, habit of doing everything he can to avoid the pronoun “he.” He switches at random between singular and plural, and everyone who is not a known male becomes a “she.” It’s disconcerting to have to stop in the middle of a paragraph to figure out whom the “she” is he is talking about.

But the major problem for me was that I had already read virtually every one of his anecdotes. A lot of these are old chestnuts, from books like Yardley’s 1957 THE EDUCATION OF A POKER PLAYER, or well-known stories taken from best-sellers, like McManus’s POSITIVELY FIFTH STREET.

The book gives fair warning in its title. If you think “LAWYERS’ POKER,” an obvious play on “Liars’ Poker,” is brilliant, you will love this book.

I recommend the book for anyone who is interested in poker, and who has not read much in the field. The same for unread, beginning lawyers, interested in trial practice.

I am sure a lot of lawyers, mostly male, will be given copies of this book as gifts. The odds are they won’t read the whole thing.

© Copyright 2007. Professor I Nelson Rose is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on gambling law. His latest books, GAMING LAW: CASES AND MATERIALS and INTERNET GAMING LAW, are available through his website, www.GAMBLINGANDTHELAW.com.


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