May 28, 2008
Book Review: In the Ring
Posted by Julie Hill

In the Ring: The Trials of a Washington Lawyer is the fascinating memoir of well-known Washington, D.C. attorney Robert S. Bennett. Although it was published a few months ago (and was extensively reviewed, including here, here, and here), I only recently had time to read it. In the interest of full disclosure, I had the tremendous good fortune to work for Bob at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. I admire him a lot. Consequently, I had been looking forward to reading some of his legal war stories.

I was not disappointed. The book serves up chapter after chapter detailing interesting cases Bob has handled. Some of the cases are well-known: acting as Special Counsel to the Senate Ethics Committee during the Keating Five investigation; representing Caspar Weinberger in an investigation regarding Iran/Contra; representing President Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones case; and representing New York Times reporter Judy Miller in legal proceeding regarding her sources for a story revealing a CIA agent’s identity. Other cases are less well-known, but equally intriguing. Bob is a careful and entertaining storyteller. He provides interesting behind-the-scenes anecdotes without disclosing confidential client information (and without getting bogged down in the more mundane legal issues that are present in even the most interesting legal cases). Those who enjoy stories of law will appreciate this book.

But the book also has something for those who enjoy the ideas of law. For me, the most thought-provoking chapter was entitled “Ring Around the White Collar.” Among other things, this chapter highlights the precarious position of companies accused of corporate wrong-doing. “Even if a company believes it is innocent, it cannot, absent unique circumstance, afford to fight the charges to the bitter end … because the company will be destroyed in the process.” Remember Arthur Andersen. Bob notes that “[w]hile prosecutors claim that they do not pressure companies to do what the government wants, every defense lawyer knows that in the real world companies are under tremendous pressure to do what the government wants so that they will not be charged.” Yet Bob concedes that “Sarbanes-Oxley has been a positive force for good. There is more corporate accountability than in the past and it has forced executives and directors of companies to focus more on their obligations to the public.” The book is not a law review article. It leaves the task of determining how to fairly prevent and punish white-collar crime largely to the reader. I cannot say that I have all the answers, but I feel comfortable saying that attorneys like Bob Bennett play a critical role.

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