These legal short stories will feature lawyers or judges, or will have courtroom scenes.
Short Stories About Court Cases or Lawyers
“The Expert Witness” by Jeffrey Archer
Toby, a solicitor, is on the golf course with Harry, an expert witness. They’ve been in court together many times, as confederates and as rivals. Several days later, Harry appears as an expert witness for Toby. The week after, Harry is testifying for Toby’s opponent.
This story can be read in the preview of To Cut a Long Story Short.
“Death on Christmas Eve” by Stanley Ellin
The family lawyer goes to the Boerum house to visit Charlie, who’s wife, Jessie, has died. Charlie’s sister, Celia, answers the door. The authorities have cleared Celia in the death, but the lawyer makes it clear he knows she did it. There’s lots of tension in the house. Celia is planning on getting rid of Jessie’s things.
This mystery story can be read in the preview of The Speciality of the House. (82% into Kindle preview)
“Barn Burning” by William Faulkner
Abner Snopes is being tried in a small-town court for allegedly burning down his landlord’s barn. Mr. Harris testifies about the dispute they had, including an obvious threat from Snopes. His young son, Sartoris, is called to testify. The boy knows he will have to lie. Harris reconsiders and lets the matter drop. Snopes is kicked out of town, and finds a new job working as a sharecropper.
This story can be read in the preview of Collected Stories. (7% into preview)
“My Favorite Murder” by Ambrose Bierce
The narrator murdered his mother. He’s been on trial for seven years. When the judge calls it “one of the most ghastly crimes” he’s ever encountered the narrator’s lawyer objects. He says this is nothing compared to when his client murdered his uncle. The judge allows the story to be told.
This story can be read in the preview of 100 Great American Short Stories. (84% into preview)
“The Day of the Execution” by Henry Slesar
Warren Selvey, a prosecuting attorney, has just secured his first big conviction. The accused has been found guilty and will get the death penalty. He’s not a junior anymore. He takes in the admiration of his peers, and looks forward to celebrating with Doreen.
This story can be read in the preview of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Presents Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense. (50% in)
“The Witness for the Prosecution” by Agatha Christie
Leonard Vole has been charged with murder, and the case against him is strong. His solicitor, Mr. Mayherne, stresses the importance of frankness—the more he knows, the stronger the defense he can mount. It all started when Leonard did a good deed to an elderly woman. As he tells the story, it turns out the case against him is even worse than he thought.
A lot of this story can be read in the preview of The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories. (10% into preview)
“Bartleby, the Scrivener” by Herman Melville
An elderly, Manhattan lawyer tells the story of Bartleby, the strangest law-copyist he has ever heard of. After being hired, Bartleby does good work for a short time. One day, though, he is asked to look over a document, and simply replies, “I would prefer not to.” This marks the beginning of a trend for Bartleby.
This story can be read in the preview of Classic Short Stories: The Complete Collection. (50% in)
“Balto” by T. C. Boyle
Mr. Apodaca, an attorney, is talking to Angelle, almost thirteen, about how there are two kinds of truths. Her father was arrested and his car impounded. There are witnesses who will have their version of what happened, and Mr. Apodaca wants to be sure Angelle’s version is the right kind of truth. Her father had been at lunch with Marcy that day and was late picking her up. He seemed a bit different.
This story can be read in the preview of Wild Child: And Other Stories. (13% in)
“An Eye for an Eye” by Jeffrey Archer
Sir Matthew Roberts has been engaged to defend Mary Banks at her murder trial. She maintains her innocence, claiming a blow from her husband caused blindness and that she was in the hospital at the time of his death. Sir Matthew believes a manslaughter plea is preferable. (Summary)
“Mr. Tallent’s Ghost” by Mary Webb
A lawyer gets roped into taking on a client, Mr. Tallent, who wants to have his novels published when he dies. The lawyer draws up the will and makes the arrangements. Mr. Tallent’s novels are extremely boring and unimaginative. The lawyer, and some others, end up dealing with considerable mental strain. (Summary)
“The Peasant’s Will” by Antonio Fogazzaro
An old man lies dying on a hay bed up in a loft. A lawyer visits to draw up the man’s will. He can’t speak but is able to make signs to indicate his wishes.
“A Death” by Stephen King
Jim Trusdale is sitting in his shack reading when Sheriff Barclay and his deputies arrive. Barclay wants to know where Jim’s hat is; Jim doesn’t know. He’s ordered into the back of the wagon. Some of the men search Jim’s shack but they don’t find anything. Jim admits to being in town that afternoon. He’s taken to a cell and searched. He’s charged with the murder of Rebecca Cline. There isn’t a proper lawyer in town, so a business owner with some education is appointed to defend Trusdale.
“Science vs Luck” by Mark Twain
A group of boys are on trial for playing games of chance, which are against the law in Kentucky. An accomplished lawyer, Jim Sturgis, is appointed to defend them. People think it’s a shame he’s being given an unwinnable case. After several restless nights, Sturgis is struck with an inspired idea for a defense.
Read “Science vs Luck”
“Conscience of the Court” by Zora Neale Hurston
A maid, Laura Kimble, is on trial for beating a white man, Clement Beasley. He went to the house of her employer, Mrs. Clairborne, to collect on a loan. Beasley says that when he found her absent and saw the maid packing up the silver he thought Mrs. Clairborne had left town and was sending for her things – things she had put up as collateral for the loan. When he tried to take the furniture, Laura assaulted him.
“Michael’s Room” by John Grisham
Stanley Wade, a small-town lawyer, stops into the store on his way home. He’s accosted by a larger, younger man who confirms Stanley’s identity, shoulder checks him, and then leaves. Stanley cautiously makes his way to his car. Before he can go, a pickup truck blocks his exit. The man forces Stanley into the truck at gunpoint. When he identifies himself as Cranwell, Stanley recognizes the name. He successfully defended a man in a nasty trial that was a terrible injustice to the Cranwell family.
“A Sale” by Guy de Maupassant
Brument and Cornu are in court, accused of the attempted murder by drowning of Brument’s wife. They were both intoxicated during the time in question. They explain their intentions to the judge.
The plot doesn’t indicate it, but this is a lighthearted story.
I’ll keep adding short stories about court cases or lawyers as I find more.