In Thorns and Roses, over a dozen lawyers tell their pro bono stories. The stories take place in children's court in the inner city, a prison in rural Alabama, a committee room on Capitol Hill, a transitional housing facility, and other places where American lawyers seek to aid those least favored in our society. The stakes are high: family, housing, employment, mobility, income to live on, dignity, life. The legal issues reside in a wide range of courses in the law school curriculum, including torts, property, criminal law, family law, employment law, immigration law, and Indian law. Rich issues of professional responsibility arise throughout the book.
Each story is a first-person narrative, told with the honesty, immediacy, and nuance of a Studs Terkel oral history. The lawyers recount their backgrounds, coming to do the work, the work itself, and its impact on themselves and their clients. The lawyers speak plainly and eloquently of their religion, upbringing, and personal values; their relationships with clients so different from themselves; their belief in the legal system and their doubts; and the frustration (the thorns) and the satisfaction (the roses) of their pro bono work.
The legal issue in each story is woven into the story itself. Each story is framed with background information about the context of the story, such as the Cambodian killing fields from which a disabled client fled and the incidence of developmental disabilities suffered by a teenage boy in foster care. Each story is followed by discussion questions drawing on the images in the story, its lessons about the law, and the always present question at a story's end—is this a happy ending?