Five Questions with Roy Black

He is one of America ‘s most famous and respected criminal defense lawyers. A former public defender and professor at the University of Miami Law School, he appears frequently on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, and CNN. This week, we ask Five Questions with… Roy Black.

1. What was your most memorable trial?

“I wrote a book, Black’s Law, to allow me the space to fully describe in vivid detail some of my most memorable trials. The book takes the reader through four trials and catalogues the strategy and tactics driving each of them. A police officer charged with manslaughter; a death row inmate facing imminent execution, a young man charged with first degree murder in the death of his mistress; and a well-known bank president charged with money laundering. Liberally using transcripts I explore the inner parts of the arguments, cross-examinations, and the defense case. It seems to me this is the only rational way to describe a trial and get inside the lawyer’s head. So in the little space I have here I don’t see how I could even attempt any sort of useful analyses.”

(Editor’s note: Black’s Law is available at

2. What was your most memorable moment as a trial lawyer?

“The most exciting part of the trial for me is cross-examination. It is unscripted, hostile, and dramatic. I have had many wonderful highlights in cross-examination but let me tell you one from my last trial. I defended the owner of a jewelry supply company charged with money laundering for selling 20 million dollars of gold for cash over a few years. The IRS launched an undercover operation against the business to prove they deliberately assisted the launders, something the client adamantly denied. Fortunately for us the agents forgot to turn off the recorders after one undercover meeting. They gave us discs of all the recording in discovery blissfully unaware of an extra 30 minutes of tape. These golden minutes were the agents brainstorming their master plan. My cross on their conversations came as a complete and ugly surprise to the testifying agent and the prosecutor. On tape the agents laughing called my client a clown ! and a dupe and discussed how to set him up without him really understanding he was committing a crime. After an hour or so of adamant and haughty denials about this I played the tape for the red-faced agent and the jury turned 180 degrees. This was a good lesson. We found this on the tape only because we examined every inch of the discs and discovered the extra minutes by seeing a few squiggly lines on the computer.”

3. What was the hardest lesson you’ve learned as a trial lawyer?

“You can’t beat the government without substantial resources. Money is not just the life blood of politics but trials as well. All the talent in the world doesn’t mean a damn thing without the tools to fight with. I want investigators to search even the Marianas Trench , six miles beneath the Pacific, if some favorable nugget is secreted there.”

4. Who or what inspired you to become a trial lawyer?

“My parents moved me to Jamaica when I was still a teenager. My new school was grandly named Jamaica College , “JC.” It was a British “public school,” one of those dreaded institutions designed to torture the young. It was run by a group of arrogant British aristocrats with an attitude that anyone outside of their class was decidedly inferior. Even worse was the prejudice. For some reason, I was singled out for special mistreatment. There was one teacher in particular who seemed to hate me: My math teacher. He detested me, I guess, just because I was an American. Nothing I could do could please him. I recall him deliberately making a fool out of me, forcing me to stand in front of the classroom, trying to explain the intricate arithmetic of British money: Pounds, shillings, guineas and even pence. My fellow students smirked and giggled. Yet I owe that hateful teacher something, and I am going to pay the debt now. By showing me injustice, he taught me to love justice. By teaching me what pain and humiliation were all about, he awakened my heart to mercy. Through these hardsh! ips I learned hard lessons. Fight against prejudice, battle the oppressors, support the underdog. Question authority, shake up the system, never be discouraged by hard times and hard people. Embrace those who are placed last, to whom even bottom looks like up. It took me some time to find my mission in life – that of a criminal defense lawyer. But that school, and that teacher, put me on my true path. So do not be discouraged. Even thorns and thistles can teach you something, and lead to success.”

5. What lesson would you pass on to new trial lawyers that you wish you had known when you started?

“Law school is not the end of your education but rather the beginning. Mastery of a craft is bought at a very dear price. Your education never stops; lawyers either become masters or slowly sink into the depths of incompetence, to be cited by name in one of those ugly ineffectiveness opinions. Take it from me you never remain the same, so always search for ways to improve. Do not be afraid to steal the ideas of others; then cannibalize, upgrade, and improve them. The internet gives you a wealth of materials at your fingertips; sends you the opinions for free; the legal blogs give advice; on-line seminars provide training. And don’t stop there, go to every seminar or lecture you can afford. There is no excuse. Remember while you are out playing golf the enemy is diligently working to defeat you.”