These short stories will feature lawyers or judges, or will have courtroom scenes.
“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)
“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.
“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.
“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.
Read “A Death” (New Yorker)
“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)
“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.