Great Criminal Lawyer Edward Bennett Williams

Good criminal defense attorneys always find ways to improve their skills. One way of doing that is by reading and studying great criminal attorneys from the past. One great criminal attorney every criminal lawyer can learn from is Edward Bennet Williams .  Williams.won his cases through intense preparation. He would spend hours studying every document and detail of the case. Once he mastered the facts, he was one of the best cross-examiners in the history of criminal law.

One of Williams’ most famous cases was his successful defense of former Texas governor John Connally, who had served as Secretary of Treasury under Richard Nixon. Connally was indicted for taking kickbacks from the American Milk Producers lobby. The prosecution’s chief witness was a lawyer named Jake Jacobson. The key moment in the case was Jacobson’s testimony in which he claimed he had delivered $5,000 in cash on two different occasions.

On cross-examination, Williams slowly destroyed Jacobson’s credibility. Williams impeached Jacobson by demonstrating he had changed his stories over the course of time. He also showed Jacobson had been under seven indictments but pleaded guilty to only one charge.

Reporters covering the trial were critical of Williams cross-examination because there was no Perry Mason moment. The public often believes cross-examinations are composed of one dramatic question that settles the entire case. In reality, cases are won by chipping away at a witness through a series of short questions which destroy the witnesses credibility. It may not be exciting to watch, but it is quite effective. Williams wore Jacobson down and proved Jacobson had motive to lie. In the end the jury acquitted Connally of all charges.

An excellent book for every criminal attorney to read is The Man to See, by Evan Thomas. This book details all of Williams’ trials and how he prepared for trial. It offers great lessons for young lawyers.

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