The Making of a Country Lawyer, (St. Martin’s Press, N.Y., 1996) With the simple power of John Steinbeck, Gerry Spence now writes this painfully honest autobiography that reveals how a country lawyer became one of the greatest trial lawyers of our time.
The Making of a Country Lawyer is, like Clarence Darrow’s The Story of My Life, the firsthand account of a beloved American attorney, a modern-day folk hero, a man who has devoted his life’s work to the innocent and the damned. It is the riveting like story of a man born to missionary parents in a small Wyoming town in the virulent year of 1929. As a boy, Gerry Spence memorized Scripture in Sunday school, sold fresh bouquets of sweet peas door to door, herded sheep, and prowled the brothels of the Old West before he was fifteen. Tragically, it is also the haunting story of a deeply sensitive twenty-year-old son who learned one October morning that his God-fearing mother, seemingly depressed by her son’s waywardness, had shot herself in the mouth with her husband’s hunting rifle. More than any other single event, it was this tragedy that transformed the young Gerry Spence and fashioned his view of the world. It allowed him to become sensitive to the feelings of society’s castoffs and prepared him to be a trial lawyer, eventually handling such landmark cases as the defense of Randy Weaver and the vindication of a dead plutonium plant worker named Karen Silkwood. The Making of a Country Lawyer not only follows Spence through law school (after graduating first in his class, he initially flunked the bar!), but also chronicles his years as a young prosecuting attorney, his first cases, his successful battle with alcoholism, and his consuming love affair with the woman who would save his life. The Making of a Country Lawyer is, like Russell Baker’s Growing Up, the long-awaited memoir of a man who has captured the American imagination at a time when our belief in our values and in ourselves has been shaken to the core.