A Lawyer's Life

A Lawyer's Life

by Johnnie Cochran, David Fisher

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The most famous lawyer in America talks about the law, his life, and how he has won.

Johnnie Cochran has been a lawyer for almost forty years. In that time, he has taken on dozens of groundbreaking cases and emerged as a pivotal figure in race relations in America. Cochran gained international recognition as one of America's best - and most controversial lawyers - for leading 'the Dream Team' defense of accused killer O.J. Simpson in the Trial of the Century. Many people formed their perception of Cochran based on his work in that trial. But long before the Simpson trial and since then Johnnie Cochran has been a leader in the fight for justice for all Americans. This is his story.

Cochran emerged from the trial as one of the nation's leading African-American spokespersons - and he has done most of his talking through the courtroom. Abner Louima. Amadou Diallo. The racially-profiled New Jersey Turnpike Four. Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. Patrick Dorismond. Cynthia Wiggins. These are the names that have dominated legal headlines - and Cochran was involved with each of them. No one who first encountered him during the Simpson trial can appreciate his impact on our world until they've read his whole story.

Drawing on Cochran's most intriguing and difficult cases, A Lawyer's Life shows how he's fought his critics, won for his clients, and affected real change within the system. This is an intimate and compelling memoir of one lawyer's attempt to make us all truly equal in the eyes of the law.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312319670
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/01/2003
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 543,539
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Johnnie Cochran was born in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1937. In 1963, he began his legal career in Los Angeles as a Deputy City Attorney for the city's criminal division. In addition to O.J. Simpson, Cochran's high profile clients have included Michael Jackson, Reginald Denny, Geronimo Pratt, Todd Bridges, and James Brown. His autobiography, Journey to Justice, was a national bestseller.

David Fisher is the author of more than a dozen bestselling books, among them Gracie with George Burns, What's What, the first visual reference book, and the novel The War Magician. He has written extensively for national magazines and newspapers.

Read an Excerpt


If it may please the reader ...

There is a young California Highway Patrol officer who begins work each night at almost exactly ten o'clock and finishes at 6:15 A.M. That's known as the graveyard shift; he chooses to work through the night because by that time the worst of Southern California's daily traffic jams have faded into the sunset and the job becomes the most interesting.

During his eight and a half hours in the black-and-white patrol car he'll cover several hundred miles of Los Angeles freeway, mostly the 10 and the 110, upholding the law of the land. His patrol car is equipped to respond to a range of emergencies; there are ample medical supplies in the trunk and a shotgun in the back.

There is no such thing as a typical shift on this job. A single serious accident might fill up most of his time, or he can drive smoothly through the night making as many as twenty different and very routine stops. But on this job the next minute is always one brimming with possibilities; the unexpected is what makes it intriguing. Usually, though, the first couple of hours are pretty routine. Traffic is light. The officer and his partner will assist drivers with disabled vehicles. They'll write some tickets, mostly for speeding. But in the early morning the bars around town close and the drunk drivers hit the road. It's during those three or four hours in the middle of the night that damage will be done.

This particular young man became a law enforcement officer in 1998. He was studying microbiology at UCLA, thinking about becoming a doctor, when his best friend joined the Highway Patrol. The job is exciting, his best friend reported, it's different. Try it. And so he did. He had been on the job only a few months the first time he saw a traffic fatality. A man driving home one night had a flat tire and parked on the side of the freeway to change it. It was nothing, a simple flat tire. But another driver wasn't paying attention, his car drifted onto the apron, just close enough to hit the man changing his tire. He had been killed instantly. The result of a ton of metal traveling at high speed hitting a human being was brutal, the young officer remembered, the victim's body was ripped up pretty badly. It was a serious welcome to the work.

The uniform the officer wears is tan, with a blue stripe running down the seam of his trousers. His badge is a gold star. He has a campaign hat, the familiar Smokey the Bear model, but never wears it on the road. It's mostly for show, for dress occasions.

It is still early in his career and he's been fortunate thus far. He's never had to draw his weapon; he's never been threatened. He's only been in three or four hot pursuits and each of them ended quickly and safely.

He has been pleasantly surprised to discover that most of the people he has stopped for traffic infractions have treated him politely. Several speeders have told him they were racing home to go to the bathroom. Only occasionally have drivers reacted to the stop with anger. Three or four people have accused him of stopping them only because they are African-American, and to each of them he politely pointed out that it was night and the windows of their car were tinted, making it impossible for him to see who was inside. Several times the drivers of cars he had stopped warned him that they knew influential people, that they could cause problems in his career. Two people told him they were "personal friends of Johnnie Cochran."

Obviously they failed to read this young officer's name tag. It reads "J. E. Cochran." Jonathan Eric Cochran. My son.

Most people are quite surprised to learn that my only son is a police officer. Truthfully, when he called me from college and told me about this decision I was surprised, too. Surprised, but supportive. I've spent much of my life around law enforcement officers. Among my best friends is the former chief of police of Los Angeles, Bernard Parks. My brother-in-law and my friend for more than forty years, Bill Baker served in the L.A. Sheriff's Department for more than thirty years, rising to the rank of chief. At two different times in my life I served as a prosecutor in Los Angeles, for three years being the third-highest-ranking attorney in the L.A. County District Attorney's office. So there are few people in this nation with more respect for law enforcement officers — and the law — than me.

That statement may surprise many people, too, particularly those people who most associate me with the criminal trial for murder and the acquittal on all charges of O. J. Simpson. The Simpson trial changed the lives of every person who participated in that trial. As advertised, it was indeed the "Trial of the Century." It had all the elements of great drama: a beloved black athlete was accused of murdering his estranged white wife; it had money and sex, race and gore; it had intrigue and mystery and showcased a cast of diverse and fascinating characters. The trial dominated the popular culture in almost all of its forms for more than a year. It was probably the subject of more conversations and arguments than any subject since the Vietnam War. And, most importantly, it was televised around the world.

At the end of that trial not one of the participants walked out of that courthouse the same person he had been only months earlier. Our lives, too, had been changed forever.

Prior to the Simpson trial I was among the best-known and respected attorneys in Southern California. During my legal career I had been involved in literally thousands of cases, ranging from prosecuting dangerous drivers to defending accused killers. I am the only attorney to have been honored in Los Angeles as both Civil Trial Lawyer of the Year and Criminal Trial Lawyer of the Year. I had represented victims and their families in some of the most notorious cases in Los Angeles history. I'd won several of the largest judgments in police negligence cases ever paid by the city. I'd prosecuted or represented people of all races and religions and from every social stratum. Among the many celebrities I'd represented — this was long before the O. J. Simpson case — were Michael Jackson and football Hall of Famer Jim Brown. I represented former child TV star Todd Bridges in an attempted murder case in which he was positively identified by the victim. And in the case that spanned several decades of my professional career, I represented Geronimo Pratt, a member of the Black Panther Party who had been wrongly convicted of murder. In the community of Los Angeles I served on the boards of several charities, I was active in civic organizations, and was a member of the Los Angeles Airport Commission — during the massive rebuilding of LAX — for almost thirteen years.

I had an interesting and extremely successful legal practice, a strong marriage to a very bright and beautiful woman, I enjoyed a position of prestige and power within my community, and I had all the material possessions I needed to make me a very happy man. Life was good.

So the Simpson trial was the sea change of my life. It changed my life drastically and forever in ways impossible to even imagine. It obscured everything I had done previously. Everything. As I later understood, being in the middle of the trial was somewhat like being in the eye of a great hurricane; living there in the center it was impossible to truly appreciate the magnitude of the winds swirling around me. Unlike other famous trials of the past, throughout the Simpson trial the television cameras allowed viewers to become emotionally invested in its outcome. At some point for many people it ceased being a trial in which the prosecutors and the defense followed long-established guidelines to determine an accused man's guilt or innocence, and instead became some sort of legal soap opera. My participation as the head of Simpson's successful defense team had made me one of the most easily recognized — and controversial — people in this country. I was loved and I was vilified. I received countless requests and offers — at times I got as many as five hundred phone calls a day — as well as hate letters and threats on my life and that of my family too numerous to count.

Most of America, most of the world actually, came to know me and define me only by my work in that trial. I was the man who had told the jury, "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit." I was the attorney who pulled a knitted cap over my head and questioned its value as a disguise. But much more than anything else, I was the attorney accused of "playing the race card." I was accused of using the fact that O. J. Simpson was a black man to convince black jurors to vote to acquit him — not because he might be innocent of the crime, but rather because it was time in America for African-Americans to take retribution for the legal crimes that had been committed against them for almost three centuries.

The attacks on me personally were voluminous and ferocious. In a column in The New York Times, best-selling author Gay Talese described me as "a peerless exponent of racism as a weapon of defense." In a best selling book, author Dominick Dunne wrote, " [Johnnie Cochran's] gotten rich over the years suing the LAPD for infractions against black people ..." Infractions, I suppose, like breaking into an innocent young black man's apartment and killing him, or infractions like stopping an innocent young black man for speeding while he was driving his pregnant wife to the hospital and killing him.

And then, when I was retained in New York City by Abner Louima, a man who had been beaten and sodomized with a plunger by a policeman in a police station while other policemen stood guard, an hysterical columnist in the conservative New York Post wrote about me, "The man who cynically turned West Coast justice on its ear in service of the guilty is now poised to do a similar number on the city of New York."

This columnist added, "(H)istory reveals that he will say or do just about anything to win, typically at the expense of the truth." This columnist's ignorance about my career, my "history," did not surprise me. Obviously she had not taken the time necessary to understand what had happened in that Los Angeles courtroom. I sued the newspaper for libel, but the case was dismissed as the column was judged to be "protected opinion."

But I also received considerable acclaim for my work in the Simpson case. People of all races approached me on the street to congratulate me. In restaurants people would send over champagne. One perk I most definitely enjoyed was that my wife, Dale, and I didn't have to stand in long lines at local movie theaters, the manager simply invited us inside. African-Americans in particular were extremely supportive. Extremely. They were very proud that a black man proved that he was among the leading attorneys in the nation, that a black professional could compete successfully on the highest level.

More significantly than that, until the Simpson verdict, many people in the majority community believed that the legal system in this country functioned properly Guilty people were convicted and innocent people went free. Well, for members of that majority it did, but for the many African-Americans and other minorities, the justice system often had failed to provide justice. Sometimes it seemed to me that I'd spent too many hours of my life defending the rights — and the reputations — of people who had been shot, beaten, or choked by police officers. The reality that the system failed to protect minorities was sort of our national secret, the dirt swept under the rug. The absolutely ecstatic reaction to the Simpson verdict by so many people from the minority communities surprised and probably shocked a great number of people in the majority; and the fact that it did was simply an indication of how great is the division between the races in America.

I'm not sure that even I truly appreciated the extraordinary impact of the Simpson verdict until my wife and I visited South Africa. By that time I was used to being recognized in America. But one day in South Africa we visited the black township of Soweto. Until recently in South Africa, blacks had been forced to live in ghettos. So a township had become a small city in which lived people of every income level — but all of them black. We drove into Soweto in two vans and stopped at a small restaurant. As I got out of the car I saw a child look at me, then start running toward me. Almost immediately he was followed by other children and adults. It seemed like we were surrounded by the whole neighborhood. And they started saying my name, and they sang a song about me, a song that had been written about me. I was astonished. As we ate lunch there that day people came up to me with pictures for me to sign. It was stunning. These were people who didn't even have television sets, yet somehow they knew who I was. What had happened in that courtroom in Los Angeles had resonated with people of color literally throughout the world.

Before becoming involved in the Simpson case I'd seriously considered retiring — though admittedly Dale never for even a moment took me seriously — but at least the thought was in my mind. But my success in the Simpson case provided me with the kind of high-profile celebrity and visibility few attorneys have ever enjoyed. Court TV hired me to cohost a nightly TV show. Characters in movies made reference to me; in one of the Lethal Weapon movies, for example, Chris Rock warned a suspect after reading him his Miranda rights, "... and if you get Johnnie Cochran I'll kill you." In Jackie Brown Samuel L. Jackson told a compatriot that the lawyer he was hiring was so good, "He's my own personal Johnnie Cochran. As a matter of fact, he kicks Johnnie Cochran's ass." I appeared as myself in the Robert De Niro/Eddie Murphy film Showtime. I appeared often as a guest on shows ranging from the very serious Nightline to Larry King's show to sitcoms like The Hughleys. Saturday Night Live and Seinfeld parodied me. I was at the center of the uniquely American celebrity blitz.

It was fun. At times it was a lot of fun. And I knew that accepting it good-naturedly, even participating in it, helped soothe some of the angry feelings from the Simpson case.

But I never forgot who I was, what I believed to be my purpose in life, and those things that I had fought for my entire professional career. As a result of my efforts in the Simpson case I was given the extraordinary opportunity to express those views publicly, loudly, and often. And the attention that I received caused me to get involved in some of the most interesting and significant cases of my career. Cases that involved exactly the same institutionalized injustice I had been fighting for decades. In New York City, for example, in addition to Abner Louima's family, I represented the family of a man named Patrick Dorismond, a black man who said no to a drug deal offered by undercover police and was shot and killed. I represented, for a time at least, the family of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant who was shot nineteen times — nineteen times — by police officers. Working with my friends and co-counsel from the Simpson case, Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, we were able to cause significant changes to be made in the basic policies of the NYPD.

In Buffalo an upscale mall permitted buses full of tourists from across the border to pull directly in front of the shops, but buses from the surrounding minority neighborhoods were not permitted to enter the mall. They had to stop on the far side of a major thoroughfare. The mall management made some ridiculous explanations for this policy, but its real purpose was obvious. As a result a teenage mother named Cynthia Wiggins, who had just been trying to get to her minimum-wage job at the mall, was run down and killed by a truck. An excellent Buffalo attorney named Bob Perk asked me to join him in this civil case, in which we set out to send a strong message to all businesses that still find indirect means to discriminate against minorities.

In New Jersey, Peter, Barry, and I represented several young black and brown men driving on the New Jersey Turnpike to college who were stopped by state troopers for absolutely no reason — except that they fit an illegal law enforcement profile. When their van apparently started rolling backward the state troopers started shooting. This enabled us to focus national attention on the heinous practice of racial profiling, one of the core problems affecting race relations in this country.


Excerpted from "A Lawyer's Life"
by .
Copyright © 2002 Johnnie Cochran.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Lawyer's Life 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Even though I will always be positive that OJ did it, I have never disliked Johnnie Cochran for being who he is, and I was most anxious to read his book. I am more convinced than ever that he is a gentleman, and a genuine one. He is also a TERRIFIC attorney, one whom everyone would want to represent them. (It should be noted that OJ's case receives little more attention here than several others which Johnnie considers even more significant to his career. This in contrast to Marcia Clark's and Chris Darden's, whose books were written pretty much for the catharsis they both needed!)The only thing that is distracting about reading Johnnie's book, however, is that is it not particularly well-written from a technical standpoint. While intelligent yet unpretentious, it is full of incomplete and/or gramatically awkward sentences. This does help the reader "hear the author speaking", but I guess I am more of a purist when it comes to good writing. Additionally, the arrangement and telling of his many stories are not well organized. Sometimes he goes on and on, back and forth, relating one episode after another, and there is a tendancy to ramble. He also seems to think he has to defend his right to have the material possessions he EARNS and so richly deserves. Not necessary, Johnnie! All in all, this book VERY much worth reading - entertaining and enlightening.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I started reading this book with some skepticism. One can read anything but whether it's true or not is a different matter. By the end, Mr. Cochran has gained my respect and admiration. I am not a fan of blaming every single thing on the white man. However, I had many black friends as a young boy. My true sympathy is with any decent black citizen who is harassed in the least bit because of the color of his/her skin. This book is fascinating in its tale of injustice after injustice committed against people of color. Many people might begin to read it and then stop, thinking that it is just liberal propaganda. But the truth is that if any particular reader was subjected to the fate that the black people suffered in these incidents, that reader would wholeheartedly be grateful that people like Johnnie Cochran exist. Mr. Cochran, by the way, has represented and done justice for white clients as well. I get the feeling that even if he plays the race card, he doesn't have anything against decent white folk who are respectful towards people of color. I hope that this review is not deleted because it addresses race. The whole book addresses race;therefore, I address what the author writes about. In conclusion, put yourself in the shoes of one of the black victims in these stories. This book is well-written and explores some of the horrors forced upon people by other supposedly civilized people. It is well-worth reading, albeit with an open mind.