Four Films and a Good Mentor

Perhaps the most impressive lawyer I ever met no longer appears in court. But that does not stop me from seeking his advice from time to time. Remarkably, F. Lee Bailey is also a man of tremendous generosity. So I spent the afternoon with him yesterday talking about the law and life.

Talking with Bailey can be an ego-bruising experience: His career is unique in American law and letters. He has written widely and well, dabbling in fiction, writing popular books about the law and lawyering, and authoring practice aids in a wide variety of fields for lawyers. He's been involved in some of the highest profile cases of the past half century, too, ranging from the Boston strangler to, of course, O.J. Simpson. His is a household name throughout the country. Bottomline: When speaking with him there's no point trying to raise an eyebrow with a war story of your own. He's been there and done that, twice.

I find him an easier companion than Gerry Spence. Sure, both are great talents. Somehow Bailey seems to need less from those around him than does Spence.

At 77, Bailey now lives in Southern Maine. His mind remains sharp and incisive, and, although he is no longer practicing law, his insight on trial problems remains amazing. One of the great joys of talking to him about a case is that the evidence code remains so much a part of him that his assessment of the world cannot help, or so it seems, to begin and end with a candid appraisal of a fact's admissibility.

Bailey remains passionate about the potential use of polygraphs in criminal proceedings. I am somewhat dubious, but he is adamant. I left his home with a copy of a recent brief on which he collaborated together with instructions not to share its contents unless given permission to do so. I learned a long time ago that when he gives you something to read, you may as well just read the material before asking more questions. He tolerates ignorance well; he is a good teacher. He tolerates fools not at all.

Conversation turned at some point to the state of the American criminal bar. Bailey is a keen student of the game. He has so many facts and stories at his finger tips I wonder whether he ever sleeps. It may just be that his is a rare form of genius. What I struggle to learn he merely absorbs.

I am, of course, keeping the best parts of the conversation to myself. I went for advice on a few things, and came home amply rewarded for the pilgrimage. But I do have a little something to share. When he was in the business of hiring and training young lawyers, he used to insist that they watch four films on trial lawyering. Here they are: QB7. Anatomy of a Murder, Witness for the Prosecution and To Kill a Mockingbird.

His recommendation is enough to prompt me to watch them all. And the afternoon I spent largely listening reminds that I am blessed with mentors I do not deserve.

Comments: (6)

  • I first learned F. Lee Bailey’s name while doing a...
    I first learned F. Lee Bailey’s name while doing a paper in high school on the Patty Hearst case, and I have followed his career ever since.
    As for his role in the O.J. Simpson case, I recall seeing a fascinating article about the strategy he used in cross-examining Mark Fuhrman and how, in a masterstroke of genius, he gave the impression of complete incompetence – thereby damaging his reputation with the American public – to serve his client. As a result, the American public came out with the impression that the old man no longer had his stuff. Only the wise realized what he was doing. Or am I remembering this incorrectly?
    In any case, I envy your access to such an icon.
    Posted on August 25, 2010 at 1:41 am by Jamison
  • It's great to be respected enough in the criminal ...
    It's great to be respected enough in the criminal bar to gain access to legends like this. Thanks for sharing.
    Posted on August 25, 2010 at 2:17 am by brian tannebaum
  • I agree that Anatomy of a Murder is an excellent f...
    I agree that Anatomy of a Murder is an excellent film and should be watched by all lawyers, new and not so new. Not too long ago I wrote about this film in my blog. Here is the link:
    Posted on August 25, 2010 at 2:42 am by Ray Sipsa
  • I am very jealous--would have loved to have been t...
    I am very jealous--would have loved to have been the proverbial fly on the wall. Beth K.
    Posted on August 25, 2010 at 2:48 am by Anonymous
  • You know I swooned when you told me you'd spent th...
    You know I swooned when you told me you'd spent the day with him. I feel fortunate to have had a great many spectacular mentors throughout my career, and I've found even more through this bizarre little internet world, you included.
    Posted on August 25, 2010 at 9:16 am by mirriam
  • Great story, good fortune. You do get around. Some...
    Great story, good fortune. You do get around. Some of us are still looking for our mentors/role models. I know I am. Don't think I'll be finding him along the Maine coastline or in CT though. Perhaps Aspen, Colo.? Anxiously awaiting the next installment!?!
    I'd hate to leave this world mentorless. I heard a long time ago, Mr. Bailey was a heavy-hitter, if you catch my drift? If true, as 'alleged', does not seem to have affected his mentality at all. So there you go! What a man, what a guy. One man's poison is another man's elixir.
    Am generally opposed to hero-worship. But sometimes, you just can't help yourself?!?
    Posted on August 26, 2010 at 1:39 am by William Doriss

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