Alan Dershowitz
Frequently Asked Questions
  • How do I submit a legal case to Professor Dershowitz?
  • How can I book a public engagement with Professor Dershowitz?
  • Is peace possible in the Middle East?
  • Why do you defend torture?
  • Why do you defend "guilty" clients?
  • What advice do you have for young, aspiring lawyers?
  • Do you autograph copies of your books?
  • How do I submit a legal case to Professor Dershowitz?

    My primary focus is on teaching and writing. I accept very few legal cases each year and those I do accept are primarily appellate criminal cases.

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    How can I book a public engagement with Professor Dershowitz?

    Please go to the contact page.

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    Is peace possible in the Middle East?


    The Arab-Israeli conflict should end with a two-state solution under which all the Arab and Muslim states-indeed the entire world-acknowledge Israel's right to continue to exist as an independent, democratic, Jewish state with secure and defensible boundaries and free of terrorism. In exchange, Israel should recognize the right of Palestinians to establish an independent, democratic, Palestinian state with politically and economically viable boundaries. For these mutually compatible goals to be achieved, extremists on both sides must give up what they each claim are their God-given or nationalistic rights. Israeli extremists must give up their claimed right to all of biblical Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel), and their claimed right to maintain Jewish settlements on, or to continue the military occupation of, disputed areas that would be allocated to the Palestinian state. Palestinian extremists must give up their claimed right to all of "Palestine," including what is now Israel, as well as the alleged right of millions of descendants of those who left or were forced out of what is now Israel during the war of 1947-1949 to "return" to their "ancestral homes" in Israel. Unless these claimed rights are mutually surrendered in the interest of achieving a pragmatic, compromise resolution to the conflict, there can be no enduring peace. But if these claimed rights are surrendered, peace can be achieved. The remaining disputes-and there are many-will be much easier to resolve if agreement is reached on these fundamental issues.

    Please see my entire view on this issue in my book
    The Case for Peace or read an excerpt here.

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    Why do you defend torture?

    I don't defend torture.

    I am against torture as a normative matter, and I would like to see its use minimized. I believe that at least moderate forms of non-lethal torture are in fact being used by the United States and some of its allies today. I think that if we ever confronted an actual case of imminent mass terrorism that could be prevented by the infliction of torture, we would use torture (even lethal torture) and the public would favor its use. Whenever I speak about this subject, I ask my audience for a show of hands on the empirical question: "how many of you think that non-lethal torture would be used if we were ever confronted with a ticking bomb terrorist case?" Almost no one dissents from the view that torture would in fact be used, though there is widespread disagreement about whether it should be used. That is also my empirical conclusion. It is either true or false, and time will probably tell. I then present my conditional normative position, which is the central point of my chapter on torture.

    I pose the issue as follows: If torture is, in fact, being used, and / or would, in fact, be used in an actual ticking bomb terrorist case, would it be normatively better or worse to have such torture regulated by some kind of warrant, with accountability, record-keeping, standards and limitations. This is an important debate, and a different one from the old, abstract Benthamite debate over whether torture can ever be justified. It is not so much about the substantive issue of torture, as it is over accountability, visibility and candor in a democracy that is confronting a choice of evils. For example, William Schulz, the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, asks whether I would favor "brutality warrants," "testilying warrants" and "prisoner rape warrants." Although I strongly oppose brutality, testilying and prisoner rape, I answered Schulz with "a heuristic yes, if requiring a warrant would subject these horribly brutal activities to judicial control and accountability." In explaining my preference for a warrant, I wrote the following:

    "The purpose of requiring judicial supervision, as the framers of our 4th Amendment understood better than Schulz does, is to assure accountability and neutrality. There is another purpose as well: it forces a democratic country to confront the choice of evils in an open way. My question back to Schulz is do you prefer the current situation in which brutality, testifying and prisoner rape are rampant, but we close our eyes to these evils?

    There is, of course, a downside: legitimating a horrible practice that we all want to see ended or minimized. Thus we have a triangular conflict unique to democratic societies: If these horrible practices continue to operate below the radar screen of accountability, there is no legitimation, but there is continuing and ever expanding sub rosa employment of the practice. If we try to control the practice by demanding some kind of accountability, then we add a degree of legitimation to it while perhaps reducing its frequency and severity. If we do nothing, and a preventable act of nuclear terrorism occurs, then the public will demand that we constrain liberty even more. There is no easy answer.

    I praise Amnesty for taking the high road - - that is its job, because it is not responsible for making hard judgments about choices of evil. Responsible government officials are in a somewhat different position. Professors have yet a different responsibility: to provoke debate about issues before they occur and to change absolutes."

    Please see my entire view on this issue here.

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    Why do you defend "guilty" clients?

    I am not unique in representing guilty defendants. That is what most defense attorneys do most of the time. The Perry Mason image of the heroic defender of innocent victims of frame-ups or mistaken identification is television fiction. Occasionally truly innocent defendants are brought to trial; less frequently they are convicted. In some cases they have even been executed. But these cases-important as they are-are not the daily fare of the criminal lawyer. Any criminal lawyer who tells you that most of his clients are not guilty is either bluffing or deliberately limiting his practice to a few innocent defendants. Since I earn my livelihood as a law professor, I can be selective about the cases I take. I could, if I wanted to, represent only defendants who I believe are innocent or decent. I deliberately do not do that. I select my cases without regard to whether the defendant is guilty or what I think of him personally. Nor do I consider the likelihood of winning. I regard the representation of a guilty and despicable defendant, with little prospect of winning, as a challenge-and, indeed, as one of the highest obligations of my profession. I try to pick the most challenging, the most difficult, and the most precedent-setting cases. Because I am somewhat insulated from the pressures of the courts and the bar, I also feel a responsibility to take on cases from which other lawyers might shy away. I also take on cases that raise novel issues suitable for class discussion, and I try to integrate my courtroom and classroom work.

    For more about legal representation issues, please see my book The Best Defense.

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    What advice do you have for young, aspiring lawyers?

    I believe strongly that imitation is not the highest form of flattery, because truly unique individuals can never be imitated. But you can learn from them, so long as you realize that you are a different person, with your own dreams, backgrounds, and priorities. Understand the differences and extrapolate from their experiences and aspirations to your own unique life. Be careful, however, about accepting anyone's advice - including my own - on the basis of "years of experience." Before you put too much stock in experience, make sure the person offering the advice has learned from his or her own experiences. Most people don't. They simply repeat their mistakes, over and over again. Their "years of experience" are little more than years of making the same mistakes over and over again without realizing that they are mistakes.

    Look up to people who have admirable traits, but understand that all have human foibles, some more than others. Expect to be disappointed, especially if you ever get to know personally those you look up to. Learn to live with the disappointments and still emulate those characteristics of your role models that warrant emulation. But even singular characteristics will rarely be without flaws. Law is an imperfect profession in which success can rarely be achieved without some sacrifice of principle. Thus all practicing lawyers - and most others in the profession - will necessarily be imperfect, especially in the eyes of young idealists. There is no perfect justice, just as there are no absolutes in ethics. But there is perfect injustice, and we know it when we see it.

    Don't accept advice that reflects the personalities and priorities of the advice givers, unless you want to be like them. Figure out which kind of situation best suits you as a unique individual with very particular needs and tastes. There is no career path that suits everyone. There is no one right way, though there certainly are some wrong ways. The worst way is to try to fit yourself into someone else's job description. Live in your own skin, not someone else's. It's okay to do someone else's job for a limited period of time as a means toward another end. Sure, go to work for a big firm in order to learn how they do things even if you know you're not suited to that kind of life. But be sure to have an exit strategy and timetable, lest you be trapped by inertia, and by becoming dependent on the seductively huge salaries and staff support that are more typical of big firms than of most other forms of legal practice.

    For more advice, please see my book Letters to a Young Lawyer.

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    Do you autograph copies of your books?

    Yes, please send the book, along with a SASE, to my office at Harvard Law School, 1575 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138. Please include a brief note with the name of the person you'd like the book inscribed to and your email or phone number. And please allow several weeks for signing. We try to accommodate requests for special occasions, but I am sometimes not in the office for weeks or months at a time.

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