The Philadelphia Inquirer published a review of the just-released biography of Jim Beasley, the founder of my firm:

Legendary Philadelphia trial lawyer Jim Beasley achieved national fame – and vast wealth – by magically spinning humdrum details into compelling courtroom drama. Former Inquirer reporter Ralph Cipriano’s account of Beasley’s life, unfortunately, too often does the opposite. …

Part of the problem is structural. The original book idea was for Beasley and Cipriano to write about Beasley’s big cases, which are world-class: Epic battles against The Inquirer on behalf of Dick Sprague; Beasley versus boxing impresario Don King; Beasley winning a record $907 million wrongful-death verdict against fugitive murderer Ira Einhorn; Beasley as the first lawyer to serve legal process on the Taliban after 9/11 – followed by a $100 million-plus judgment.

It was a good plan.

But then Beasley died.

Still, Cipriano stuck with the one-case, one-chapter format. Deprived of Beasley’s insights, however, Cipriano was forced to rely instead on juiceless trial transcripts, which are often stilted and obtuse. The result: a narrative that covers an impressively broad legal landscape, often interesting and insightful, but with a formulaic feel at odds with Beasley’s verve and spontaneity.

It’s not surprising that I have a more favorable view of the book — look to the right and you can see a picture of the book’s cover, which is link to the book’s webpage. I know the author. I went to the law school that now bears Beasley’s name and work at the firm Beasley founded.

I don’t know David Marston and I don’t think he meant to be unfair, but I do think one mistaken impression should be corrected: most of the book arose from original reporting, not trial transcripts, a distinction that comes across readily when reading it.

Take the cases listed above: Cipriano got the Inquirer editor, the judge, and the defense lawyer in Richard Sprague’s case to talk, as well as the federal court mediator in the case against Don King. It’s a fascinating read, better than you’ll get in most trial or lawyer books, with a quick pace.

True, Beasley’s own voice is not in the book, but so what? When’s the last time you read a great biography, particularly one of a trial lawyer, with ample assistance from the subject? Even the most humble of subjects come across as arrogant and self-serving when opining upon their own legacy.

Truth be told, most "authorized" or "cooperative" biographies are terrible, with insufficient distance from their subjects. Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, for example, one of the finest biographies ever written, was done without any assistance whatsoever from Robert Moses, but rather good old fashioned shoe leather and long conversations, pen and pad in hand, with Moses’ contemporaries.

Martson also missed, to me, the critical part where Jim Beasley’s personality shines through in the book: that awful title, Courtroom Cowboy, which caused Michael Smerconish to drop his head in his hands when Beasley chose it. You can’t read words so self-assured without them smacking you in the face.

Which is how he wanted it.