Lawyer Involved In Infamous “San Quentin Six” Trial Publishes New Book

In Trial Lawyer: A Life Representing People Against Power, Zitrin shares details of the most compelling cases he has encountered
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Photos: Richard Zitrin

On August 21, 1971, six people, including Black Panther leader George Jackson, were killed at San Quentin State Prison in one of the most violent episodes in the history of American prisons. The trial, when it finally occurred, was the longest criminal trial in American history. From the beginning, the case was filled with conspiracy theories and to this day, basic facts about it are full of factual inaccuracies. What is known is that the only person who was convicted of murder had his conviction overturned twice by an appeals court and was freed over thirty years ago. He was Richard Zitrin’s first client, Johnny Spain.

Lawyer and law professor Richard Zitrin with his recently published book Trial Lawyer.

From this, his very first case as a young law student, Zitrin embarked on a forty-year career as a criminal defense attorney and internationally known legal ethics professor placing him on the front lines of fighting systemic racism, pervasive elitism, and injustice against individuals in the legal system.

In Trial Lawyer: A Life Representing People Against Power, Zitrin shares details of the most compelling cases he has encountered, exposes the ethical dilemmas he faced, and explores the systemic racism and elitism he witnessed. His personal stories bring the reader inside the courtroom to experience a unique cast of characters, strange-but-true facts, brilliant trial tricks and tactics—and not-so-brilliant ones that failed miserably. Each had its own lessons: about social justice, fairness, strategy, ethics, morality, and more. Part memoir, part social critique, Trial Lawyer brings to life what it means to represent people against power.

Praise for Trial Lawyer: A Life Representing People Against Power:

"Richard Zitrin has written a powerful, moving and deeply human memoir, replete with gripping, heartbreaking and inspiring stories, about his life as a criminal defense attorney and the people he has represented. Zitrin offers a timely example of what it truly means to be antiracist, and how this by necessity entails personal risk, ethical grounding, and an unswerving commitment to justice."-Chad Williams, Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies, Brandeis University

"Richard Zitrin is a great lawyer because he is a great storyteller. These are his best stories. They are compelling not only because they are true but also thanks to the behind-the-scenes details, which bring to life what an advocate must do for his cause and his client. Any lawyer or law student would benefit from this book. Anyone interested in law and justice will enjoy it too. Zitrin has brought the law to life."-Frank H. Wu, President of Queens College, CUNY, and the author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White

"Richard Zitrin's book should be read by every lawyer, everyone who wants to be a lawyer, and anybody who wants to understand why lawyers do what they do."-Steven Lubet, Professor & Director, Bartlit Center for Trial Advocacy, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law

"I don't think I can adequately describe how absorbed I was in reading what Richard wrote. Richard put into words not only what was happening and what we did, but more importantly provided a real living context that seems to be disappearing in everyday life."-Johnny Spain, one of the San Quentin Six


Richard Zitrin has been licensed to practice law in California and New York for four decades. He has tried over fifty cases to verdict, from murder cases to products liability and malpractice, among others. He has been certified in California as a trial specialist in both criminal law and legal malpractice law. He also has spent over forty years teaching at two Bay Area law schools, primarily teaching Legal Ethics and also teaching Trial Practice. He has written three previous books, including The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer: Truth, Justice, Power, and Greed, and over one hundred published articles. He has published in periodicals from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle to the National Law Journal, the Sporting News, and NINE: A Journal of Baseball History & Culture.

In 2019, Richard was awarded California Bar’s statewide Harry Sondheim Award for “outstanding long-term contribution to the advancement of attorney professional standards in California.” Other awards include the national American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico award for service in support of the public good, and statewide and local awards for his pro bono work and for promoting equality and diversity. He was the founding director of the University of San Francisco’s Center for Applied Legal Ethics, Chair and Special Advisor to the California State Bar’s ethics committee, and technical advisor to the feature film Class Action, where he had a speaking role in a scene with Gene Hackman. He is a graduate of Oberlin College and New York University School of Law.

Richard was born in Brooklyn and raised in New York. Before law school he dove into New York City politics, and then dropped out of law school to sing songs he wrote while passing the hat at clubs in Greenwich Village and driving a NYC taxicab to make ends meet. He has lived in San Francisco since 1973. In his free time, he can be found playing saxophone or full court basketball or eating at his Italian restaurant. His wife, three adult children, and two grandchildren all live in the Bay Area.

For more information, please visit his website.

Trial Lawyer A Life Representing People Against Power, published by Political Animal Press, distributed by University of Toronto Press. The book is available for pre-order at bookstores nationwide and online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound

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