July 18, 1997 at 04:00 AM EDT

Grand Jury

Current Status
In Season
We gave it an A-

Americans are schizoid when it comes to lawyers. We profess to love hating them, yet to judge from the avalanche of legal thrillers clogging bookstores, we have no trouble accepting them as the heroic descendants of cowboys and private eyes. It’s not as though the attorney as champion is a completely new phenomenon: Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason enjoyed a long career, and the courtroom melodrama has been an entertainment staple for decades. But it was the phenomenal success of Scott Turow and John Grisham that revitalized the genre and opened the door for nearly anybody with a law degree, an I-can-do-that attitude, and a catchy title swiped from legalese or trial jargon to place a manuscript with an eager publisher. Here is how the big names in attorneys-at-fiction (other than Turow and Grisham, of course) stack up.

Two attorney-authors, Philip Friedman and Robert K. Tanenbaum, may not exactly prepare you for the bar exam, but their lectures on case law and trial procedures — delivered with nimble dialogue and galloping narrative — yield lucid, fascinating glimpses of American legal culture. At nearly 700 pages, Friedman’s Grand Jury turns a presumably simple case of heroin possession into a near-epic saga of greed, deceit, and injustice. A-

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