Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction

Michael Connelly Wins 2012 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction

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Michael Connelly
Photo by Terrill Lee Lankford

The Fifth Witness

Michael Connelly’s legal thriller The Fifth Witness has been named the winner of the 2nd Annual Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

The Fifth Witness, which debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller List, features a recurring Connelly book character, the maverick Los Angeles lawyer Mickey Haller, who after having taken on foreclosure cases represents a woman accused of killing the banker threatening to take her home away. Haller, also known as “The Lincoln Lawyer,” inspired the 2011 Hollywood movie of the same name.

After a close vote, Connelly was selected from among three finalists, including Robert Dugoni, author of Murder One, and David Ellis, author of Breach of Trust.

“This is a fantastic honor, not only for its association with Ms. Lee but because it seeks to highlight the very important and honorable role of lawyers in society,” Connelly said Tuesday. “When I was 13 and spending hot summer days in the air conditioning afforded by the Fort Lauderdale public library, a librarian made me read To Kill a Mockingbird. I discovered a story about a lawyer who was forthright and willing to do the right thing, even at great risk and cost to himself and those he loved. That is the definition of hero I have endeavored to capture in my own work. This honor tells me I’m on the right track.”

On this year’s Harper Lee Prize Selection Committee were New York Times best-selling novelist Linda Fairstein; former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; New York Times best-selling novelist Lisa Scottoline; NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg; and Fox News political analyst Juan Williams. The committee sifted through 40 submissions before choosing the three finalists and picking the winner. They also considered the results of an online public poll at ABAJournal.com, which counted as one vote.

The prize will be presented at a ceremony and panel discussion hosted by the selection committee on Sept. 20, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the National Book Festival, sponsored by the Library of Congress. Connelly will receive a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird signed by Harper Lee.

The prize, created by the University of Alabama School of Law and the ABA Journal, honors Lee for the extraordinary and enduring influence her novel has had in the public perception of the legal profession. The prize will be awarded annually to the published book-length work of fiction that best exemplifies the role of lawyers in society. Author John Grisham won the inaugural prize last year for his book The Confession.

Ken Randall, dean of the University of Alabama law school, said Tuesday that Connelly’s book is a worthy successor to John Grisham’s Harper Lee Prize-winning book last year.

“The prize helps perpetuate the best traditions of legal fiction established by Alabama’s former student, the legendary Harper Lee,” Randall said. “Mr. Connelly’s book effectively portrays the critical difference lawyers can make on their clients’ lives and more generally on justice. Resourceful lawyers of different backgrounds, whether like Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, or Connelly’s Mickey Haller, play a pivotal role in society.”

Connelly, a veteran journalist and past president of the Mystery Writers of America, has sold more than 45 million books worldwide. He lives with his family in Florida.

For More on Books:

ABA Journal (Gallery): “30 Lawyers Pick 30 Books Every Lawyer Should Read”

The Modern Law Library: With podcasts featuring authors and news about law-related books

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