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Book Review

Author offers insider’s look at US justice system

Book title: Journey to Justice
Author: Johnnie Cochran
Reviewer: Diana Ngila

We’ve all seen them, trial lawyers in their fancy suits and elegant command of language, but mostly their learned minds at work on our television sets.

They keep us glued with their intricate arguments and intimate understanding of the law. We’ve got our fair share here. From James Orengo, to Fred Ng’atia and Ahmednassir Abdullahi to mention but a few senior counsel mostly seen in the much-publicised cases. 

Hollywood too is obsessed. It’s got its fair share of legal drama on the screens, among them popular hit series Suits. Well, before Suits, or Ally McBeal, there was Johnnie  Cochrane Jr. 

Johnnie Cochrane Jr, a trial lawyer, well known for being the man behind O.J in the case of the People of California versus Orenthal James Simpson, did more than just handle famous clients, among them, Michael Jackson. Cochrane Jr made his name fighting for the rights of mostly disenfranchised minorities in his Los Angeles community, in cases against the police department. 

Although inspired by Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American in the US Supreme Court, to become a lawyer, Cochrane Jr faced financial difficulties, which he overcame by working to raise his tuition fees. The book lays down his foundation years, life before law and intently switches to the weight of his calling. 

Given his trade, Johnnie Cochrane Jr writes effortlessly well, as though he were delivering his closing statements in court. Journey To Justice has the flair of a performer, depth of a thinker and clarity layered in not just the law but the reasoning behind it and the evidence tabled. 

He goes on to explain how he handled various cases, among them the globally televised trial of OJ Simpson, how juries are pivotal in the outcome, just as much as the opening and closing arguments. 

Cochrane Jr states, “a trial is not really a struggle between opposing lawyers but opposing stories.” And “telling that story is the lawyer’s real task”, according to the intricacies of the law, of course.

The celebrated legal mind goes on to describe how consuming a big trial can get, and how the lawyer’s parallel life pauses until determination because “sometimes it feels as if you’re on trial along with your client”. 

Cochrane Jr explores his inspirations as well as lessons learned throughout the book. He writes, “Like any trial lawyer, I was happy to win, but as victory following victory, the nagging feeling grew that I was the beneficiary not of good police work but of an elaborate choreography.”

Cochrane Jr readily admits back then, “you could be held in contempt for calling a police officer a liar”. 

This book is peppered with an insider’s look of what the American justice system is like. Journey To Justice is bottom heavy on race and injustice, enough to make your skin crawl. It has no in-between. It will make you re-think what you know . This is not just a book for lawyers. It’s well distilled so anyone can read it. 

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