Once the 'meanest lawyer in Houston,' author shares story of love for his murdered brother (podcast)
Run, Brother, Run
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David Berg was an ambitious young lawyer in Houston in 1968 when his older brother, Alan, disappeared. Alan, who had followed their father into the carpet business, had been killed by a hit man over a business dispute. His body wasn’t discovered for another six months. He left behind a wife and three children, one of whom was born after his death. The trial of Charles Harrelson (notorious killer-for-hire and father to actor Woody Harrelson) which followed—and Harrelson’s subsequent acquittal—was so painful for Berg that he barely spoke of his brother’s death for another 40 years.
“You know, actually, I’ll be honest, I took kind of a macho pride in that; that I had shouldered that burden myself, I hadn’t burdened my children,” Berg said to the ABA Journal’s Lee Rawles. “But they were curious about what had happened to their Uncle Alan, and so were Alan’s children.”
So in 2008, he picked up his pen to write what would become Run, Brother, Run: A Memoir of a Murder in My Family. “As I got older, I really wanted a chance to give my brother, who was murdered, a life of sorts,” he says. “And to tell the world everything I could about my brother. True always; not always flattering. But he was the most Gatsbyesque character I ever knew, and I loved him dearly, and I wanted the world to know.”
Berg himself spent the beginning of his career as a criminal defense attorney, one of the few areas of the law he says were open to a Jewish lawyer in Houston in the 1960s. After his brother’s slaying, he continued to practice criminal defense, and poured his emotions into his work. “I think that it fueled my desire to be successful, to win. I was very angry at the loss of my brother, and I took it out in my cases. There was a profile done in Parade Magazine not too long after I started practicing—maybe five, six seven years—that asked if I was the meanest lawyer in Houston. And in fact I probably was, because I diverted all that anger into what I was doing.”
In the podcast, Berg shares a painful story of the confrontation with his mother which steered him out of criminal work, and into commercial litigation.
While written for a general audience, Run, Brother, Run should appeal greatly to lawyers, Berg says. “I think that what lawyers can take away from the book is a sense that injustice still exists—it did then back in the 60s, it does now—and it’s important to step in and do something about it.”
ABAJournal.com: “Attorney deals with long-ago slaying of his brother by writing a book”
In This Podcast:
David Berg has tried virtually every kind of civil and criminal case to a verdict, from murder to patent infringement, and he has won hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements. He has been recognized as one of the “Best Lawyers in America” in nine trial practice areas. His 2003 book, The Trial Lawyer: What It Takes to Win, is one of the American Bar Association’s bestselling books. In addition, David has published articles and essays in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Litigation Magazine and The Houston Chronicle. He lives in Houston and New York with his wife. (Photo by Martine Fougeron)