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Friday, November 2, 2007

My little book battle (CLE attendees beware!)

I recently had an interesting experience that has left me scratching my head, and, to be honest, a little annoyed.

I received in the mail a copy of Terence MacCarthy's book -- MacCarthy on Cross-Examination -- published by the American Bar Association. I was familiar with MacCarthy, having seen him make a presentation at Minnesota CLE's Criminal Justice Institute in Bloomington a couple of months ago.

As the editor of Minnesota Lawyer, I frequently get books sent to me by authors who hope we might review it or at least mention it in our paper. I assumed that this book, which arrived without explanation, fell into that category. Having no plan to read or review it, I nearly pitched it into the recycle bin. Fortunately, I did not.

The next day I received a bill from the ABA for $147.90, representing $129.95 for the book and another $17.95 for shipping. First of all, $129.95 strikes me as a bit excessive for a 220-page soft-cover book with absolutely no art work. And, given that it wasn't even the size of John Grisham novel, it seemed nervy for the ABA to charge me more than $17.95 to put it in an envelope and send it to me. At that price, I would expect it to be personally delivered to me by somebody in a gorilla suit.

I called the ABA -- and after wasting several minutes in Muzak land waiting to be connected to an actual human being -- I was able to talk with an someone. She was pleasant enough. When I said I had erroneously received and been billed for an ABA book, she asked me immediately, "Was it the McCarthy book?" I said that it was, and she told me that she would send me a return label so that I could send it back and not be charged.

Apparently, MacCarthy mistakenly told everyone at the CLE the book would be free when he passed around a sign-up sheet at the CLE. (At least that's what Minnesota CLE says in an explanatory letter I just received.)

I am feeling inconvenienced and somewhat peeved. When I do get around to sending the over-priced book back, I am toying with the idea of charging the ABA $17.95 for my "handling" costs to see how they like it ....


Anonymous said...

I assume that you are aware that legally you have no obligation to return the book nor do you have an obligation to pay for it if you did not order it.

Mark Cohen, editor said...

Yeah. Technically, as I understand the law, no one has to return the book because it was (depending on you view it) an unsolicited mailing (for which you can't charge) or an offer of a free book and an acceptance (also no financial obligation).

Terence MacCarthy does not seem a bad sort, and I am guessing what he said was just a bonehead slip of the tongue, so I am trying to rise above just being lawyerly about the whole affair. I still think the ABA has a lot of gall for charging that much for a book like this and adding what such an outrageous shipping charge. But, in the end, it's not the ABA's fault that MacCarthy misspoke.

Dan said...

How about getting a free copy so that you can review it so that I can read the review and then decide if I should buy the book. I am still looking for a book review. Thank you.

Mark Cohen, editor said...

Probably not going to review it here at this point -- having gone through the bother of returning it and all. However, I can tell you that the author is an interesting and entertaining speaker who knows the topic of which he speaks. I would imagine the book reflects that.

It looks to be a fairly quick read -- my major objection was its price relative to its size (and the inflated "shipping" charge).

Mark Cohen, editor said...

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. After mulling your input, I placed a call to the ABA to see if they would provide us with a review copy. Since it's the ABA, I got voicemail, of course. If they get back to me and do indeed send us a review copy, I will let you know what I think.

Mark Cohen, editor said...

Dan --

Upon my request, the ABA sent me a review copy of “MacCarthy on Cross-examination” and I was able to check it out.

MacCarthy’s book is entertaining, short and contains a number of quips and anecdotes drawn from his own experience and other sources (including one from the Bible). It is a 221-page paperback. I don’t think a lot of it would be new information for anyone who has spent much time cross-examining. A lot of it strikes me as specifically geared for the young lawyer – explaining things such as the importance of controlling a witness, listening etc. A lot of it can be summed up as cross-examination 101. But it’s a quick read, and MacCarthy is a good storyteller – of the type who used to sit on a pickle barrel in the general store and tell tales, no doubt.

I stick by my gut reaction that the price is extremely high for what you get. This book should be in the $10-$30 range. But that said, there are definitely some decent tips for lawyers without a lot of trial experience.

And here's a shameless plug: If you are not already a subscriber, I suggest you subscribe to our newspaper, Minnesota Lawyer, which has lots of nuts-and-bolts stuff. We have done several articles touching on things like effective cross that are in our archive and attainable to subscribers.