Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction

Help pick the best legal novel of the year: Vote for one of three Harper Lee Prize finalists


Three clients—a homeless Iraq war veteran, an aging Cuban musician and the troubled son of an assistant district attorney—are the focal points of three novels selected as finalists for the 2013 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

The three finalists were announced Tuesday by the ABA Journal and the University of Alabama Law School, co-sponsors of the Harper Lee Prize. They are: David Ellis for The Wrong Man; Paul Goldstein for Havana Requiem; and William Landay for Defending Jacob.

You can help choose the winner by voting for your favorite in the poll accompanying this post. Voting is open through June 30. The winner will be announced July 16.

The prize, a signed copy of Harper Lee’s iconic novel To Kill A Mockingbird, will be awarded Sept. 19 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., during a ceremony held in conjunction with the Library of Congress National Book Festival.

This is the third year for the prize. Inspired by Lee’s resolute lawyer/hero Atticus Finch, it is given annually to a book-length work of fiction published in the preceding year that best exemplifies the role of lawyers in society. Previous winners include John Grisham, for The Confession (2011) and Michael Connelly for The Fifth Witness (2012).

Judges for the 2013 prize include:

• Michael Connelly, acclaimed author of The Lincoln Lawyer and winner of the 2012 Harper Lee Prize.
• Katie Couric, former CBS News anchor, now host of the syndicated talk show Katie.
• Morris Dees, the founder of and chief trial attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
• Dr. Sharon Malone, physician and sister of the University of Alabama alumna Vivian Malone Jones (the first African-American woman admitted to the University of Alabama).
• Richard North Patterson, best-selling author of Fall From Grace and 18 other novels.

Learn more about each book below. Descriptions are from the authors’ official websites:

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The Wrong Man by David Ellis

When Jason Kolarich accepts the case of a homeless Iraq war veteran accused of murdering a young paralegal, his course seems clear: to mount an insanity defense for a man suffering so badly from post-traumatic stress disorder that he has no real memory of the crime. But as Kolarich digs deeper, he realizes that, unlikely as it seems, his client is probably innocent—and the murder was no random crime, but a targeted hit. As Jason Kolarich races to find the truth in time to save his client, he’ll find himself embroiled in a mystery involving the mob, a mysterious assassin, and a conspiracy of wealthy, international terrorists with explosive plans for his city.


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Havana Requiem by Paul Goldstein

Fueled by alcohol and legal brilliance, Michael Seeley once oversaw his law firm’s most successful litigation. Until it all fell apart. Recklessness and overreach cost him his wife, his job, and likely the life of his last client, a Chinese dissident journalist. Havana Requiem, the latest Seeley novel from the acclaimed author Paul Goldstein, opens after a year’s sobriety has earned him back most of what he lost: the partnership in his Manhattan law firm, if not his corner office; the wary respect of most of his partners; the lucrative clients—but not the gin-sharpened passion.

Then the renowned Cuban musician Héctor Reynoso enters his office with a simple request: help him and other composers who defined Cuba’s musical golden age of the 1940s and 1950s—the music that made the Buena Vista Social Club internationally famous—reclaim the copyright to their work. When Reynoso goes missing, Seeley’s reluctant promise to help draws him progressively deeper into Havana’s violent underbelly and a decades-long conspiracy that runs from the partners in his firm to the U.S. State Department to Cuba’s security police, who are willing to do anything to suppress the truth. And in the heat of Havana, Seeley will lose himself to his worst and best passions as his pursuit of justice becomes a desperate gambit to save not only his composers but the stunning Amaryll, who is playing her own dangerous game.


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Defending Jacob by William Landay

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney for two decades. He is respected. Admired in the courtroom. Happy at home with the loves of his life, his wife, Laurie, and teenage son, Jacob. Then Andy’s quiet suburb is stunned by a shocking crime: a young boy stabbed to death in a leafy park. And an even greater shock: The accused is Andy’s own son—shy, awkward, mysterious Jacob. Andy believes in Jacob’s innocence. Any parent would. But the pressure mounts. Damning evidence. Doubt. A faltering marriage. The neighbors’ contempt. A murder trial that threatens to obliterate Andy’s family.

It is the ultimate test for any parent: How far would you go to protect your child? It is a test of devotion. A test of how well a parent can know a child. For Andy Barber, a man with an iron will and a dark secret, it is a test of guilt and innocence in the deepest sense.

How far would you go?

Updated May 31 to revise our list of judges. Professor Michael Asimow withdrew because of a conflict.

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