‘Lawyers Never Lie’ is a gripping legal comedy

By Ande Jacobson

Teri Kanefield is well-known in various circles as a writer, an appellate defense attorney, and an educator. Of late she’s been part of the building legal community on Twitter, patiently explaining various high profile legal matters rippling through public discourse. Before the heightened activity of legal Twitter, she was an award winning author writing across genres including nonfiction and fiction for both young readers and adults. Her nonfiction is carefully researched and expertly presented to inform and enthrall. Her fiction is gripping, often originating from a circumstance or event she knows well adhering to the old adage of writing what you know. Kanefield’s fiction also exemplifies something she holds close to heart – that fiction or literature in an ideal world is a creative way to get to the truth. This is the case in her engaging novel, Lawyers Never Lie. The story is largely autobiographical although the names have been changed, the ages have been shuffled, and the personalities have been modified to protect the innocent. The back cover starts with:

“A boy on the roof. A house in shambles. A new baby. A lawsuit.”

And ends with:

“A story of raising children, legal ethics, and fixing what is broken.”

The house is in shambles because a deranged contractor destroyed it when he was supposed to be building a simple addition. This is partially the story of the contractor nobody wants to have had the misfortune of hiring after significant damage has been done. That damage goes far beyond the construction disaster. It bleeds into the lives of a growing family in ways they’d never imagined would happen to them. Cassie is a young mother who also happens to be a recently qualified attorney. Her husband, Eric, is a product manager with a local company. Their kids are inquisitive and precocious, well, except for the baby who hasn’t yet come into her own. Having lived through Cassie’s law school days, the twins have a much greater appreciation for and knowledge of the law than most adolescents, sometimes with confounding precision. The episode with the school’s roof is exhibit 1 in that progression.

With respect to the lawsuit teased on the back cover, there are actually two legal actions – one civil suit by the deranged contractor, and another completely unexpected criminal action that takes some serious investigation and effort to untangle. Some of the discussions in the book are reminiscent of the best of Kanefield’s legal blog posts as gripping stories with significant educational value. Readers can learn some important aspects of contract law while enjoying the unfolding story. It’s impossible not to care about what happens to this family.

Along the way, Kanefield wraps some recognizable locations into the plot. Although not explicitly called out, from the landmarks and description I got a chuckle out of one of the “memories” talking about Cassie and Eric’s first encounter while still students having attended that particular university. Whether this was drawn from real life or not, it certainly reads as though it could have been. From many of Kanefield’s other writings on her blog and on social media, the family discussions and situations with the children in the story also read as though similar events may have occurred at home.

Released in 2014, the book is relatively short, only 220 pages, and is a quick read. The legal explanations are given in bite-sized chunks that are easily digested and leave the reader wanting more. Kanefield has a flair for using literature to discuss legal issues making them far more accessible than they might first seem. There are also numerous light-hearted and tender moments that make the characters whole. Lawyers Never Lie is well worth an evening or two and will have readers laughing out loud in places while sitting on the edge of their seat to find out what happens next.

Lawyers Never Lie, by Teri Kanefield
From Literature to Litigation (essay by Teri Kanefield in The Recorder, San Francisco’s legal newspaper)

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