10 Best Legal Thriller Novels: Stay On The Edge of Your Proverbial Courtroom Seat With These Nail-Biters

Curious about what goes on behind the doors of the courtroom? You’ll want to pick up these best legal thriller novels. Read our list.

The way the law works is fascinating, and crime thriller authors can expertly use concepts of legality and justice to create spellbinding stories that keep readers on the edge of their seats. Whether looking for a classic like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird or the latest John Grisham bestseller, you’ll love exploring the ups and downs of tough court cases and the difficulties that lawyers and judges face as they’re working to deliver justice to victims.

Here Are The 10 Best Legal Thriller Novels

1. The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly
Michael Connelly via Wikipedia, Public Domain

In the first book of this six-book series, The Lincoln Lawyer lets readers get to know Mickey Haller, a charismatic attorney who works out of his Lincoln Towncar. He’s known for defending a wide variety of clients, from drug dealers to con artists. Haller doesn’t care much whether his clients are guilty or not. Instead, he loves manipulating the law.

Haller gets a high-profile, high-paying client who is accused of attacking a woman, and Haller believes that it will be a simple open-and-shut case… until someone close to him is murdered, and he’s forced to deal with up-close-and-personal evil. Readers see how Haller’s moral compass adjusts as his work suddenly hits close to home. If you’re searching for more thriller novels to add to your reading list, check out our guide on the best Dan Brown books!

“I view people two ways. They’re either eye-for-an-eye people or they are turn-the-cheek people.”

Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer

2. Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

Scott Turow
Scott Turow via Wikipedia, Public Domain

In his debut novel, published in 1987, Scott Turow received critical and reader acclaim for his realistic portrayal of the United States legal system in Presumed Innocent.

The story is told from the point of view of Rusty Sabich, a prosecutor who is eventually accused of the murder of a woman with whom he was having a secret affair. Sabich is terrified that working the case will reveal his indiscretions to his wife and family. The final twist at the end of the book shocks readers, as the actual culprit of the murder is the last person Sabich suspected could be capable of such a crime.

” ‘Let me remind you. There was a real crime. No one will dispute that. There was a real victim. Real pain. You do not have to tell us why it happened. People’s motives, after all, may be forever locked inside them.’ “

Scott Turow, Presumed Innocent

3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Harper Lee
Harper Lee via Wikipedia, Public Domain

This Pulitzer-prize-winning novel is one of the best and tells the story of injustice in the Deep South. To Kill a Mockingbird is an inspiring story that follows Scout and her father, a lawyer named Atticus, as he works to clear the name of Tom Robinson, a Black man accused of raping a white woman in their small Alabama town.

The people in the town are furious that Atticus is defending Robinson, but he presses on. Scout’s tale of dealing with the neighborhood outcast, as she has to eventually decide whether to turn him in for a justified crime. The story is profoundly moving and touches on challenging themes of racism, coming-of-age, justice, and the human condition.

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

4. Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver

Robert Traver
Robert Traver via Wikipedia, Public Domain

This Number 1 Bestseller made headlines when it was first published in 1958 and continues to be one of the most famous court drama novels of all time. Anatomy of a Murder follows a lawyer defending a man charged with murder. The story is simple, but the narrator’s dry humor and wit keep the reader engaged from beginning to end. While the novel seems cut and dry, readers are surprised by the twist at the end that shows not everything is as it seems.

“It is almost duty bound to mislead, and by instinct dotes on confusing and flourishes on weakness. Its search is for blemishes it can present as scars, its obligation to raise doubts or sour with suspicion. It asks questions not to learn but to convict, and can read guilt into the most innocent of answers.”

Robert Traver, Anatomy of a Murder

5. A Time to Kill by John Grisham

John Grisham
John Grisham via Wikipedia, Public Domain

In this number 1 New York Times bestseller, Grisham expertly takes readers through the story of the assault of a ten-year-old Black girl by two white men in Clanton, Mississippi. While the town is horrified by the crime, the girl’s father decides to take the issue into his own hands—and acquires an assault rifle.

The novel delves into the deep-rooted racism that still plagues the Deep South as crosses burn and shots are fired. The story of A Time to Kill is told from the perspective of Jake Brigance, a defense attorney who is both gifted and flawed and finds himself scared for his own life.

“Lucien had taught him that fear was good; fear was an ally; that every lawyer was afraid when he stood before a new jury and presented his case. It was okay to be afraid – just don’t show it.”

John Grisham, A Time to Kill

6. The Legal Limit by Martin Clark

The Legal Limit by Martin Clark tells the story of Gates and Mason Hunt, brothers who have taken different paths in life. While Mason became an attorney in their home state of Virginia, Gates is a drug dealer serving a sentence for a felony charge.

Mason’s life takes a turn, and he finds that he’s faced with the fact that he may need to reveal a secret that he and Gates promised one another they’d never tell. This novel delves into the ins and outs of both the judicial and punitive systems while discussing the intricate issues that come into play when family issues are thrown into the mix. Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best spy thriller books! You can also search for thriller authors using our search bar at the top right of the post.

“The day it happened, Mason Hunt has spent most of his morning settled into the afghan-covered recliner at his mother’s house, watching a nondescript black and brown and white thrush fly against the big den window again and again as it tried to punch through the glass, the bird evidently sickly or a bona fide lunatic, remaining behind while its kin abandoned Virginia and migrated farther south.”

Martin Clark, The Legal Limit

7. The Devil’s Advocate by Morris West

Morris West
Morris West via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, The Devil’s Advocate transports readers to Southern Italy, where Father Blaise Meredith, an English priest, is sent to investigate the unusual death of Giacomo Nerone. The catch: Meredith is dying and doesn’t have much time to get to the bottom of the case. This ultimately feel-good novel reminds readers that justice often prevails. The Devil’s Advocate was also awarded the W.H. Heinemann Award of the Royal Society of Literature and was developed into a feature film.

“I believe in saints as I believe in sanctity. I believe in miracles as I believe in God, who can suspend the laws of His own making. But I believe, too, that the hand of God writes plainly and simply, for all men of good will to read. I am doubtful of His presence in confusion and conflicting voices.”

Morris West, The Devil’s Advocate

8. The Southern Lawyer by Peter O’Mahoney

Lawyer Joe Hennessy hasn’t been in a courtroom in a decade, as he walked away from Charleston following the murder of his ten-year-old son. When one of the most powerful men in the town is charged with possessing stolen art, Hennessy decides to brush off his legal chops and discovers that the man on trial—and those close to him—have problems that run far deeper.

In The Southern Lawyer: An Epic Legal Thriller, Hennessy takes on the case of a woman who stabbed her ex during one of his violent rages. The cases are connected, and Hennessy must decide whether defending his clients is work putting his reputation and safety on the line.

” ‘The intensity of grief never changes,’ she had said. ‘Some people think so, but that’s not it. What changes is your body’s ability to accept it. Once it learns how to deal with it, it becomes easier.’ “

Peter O’Mahoney, The Southern Lawyer: An Epic Legal Thriller

9. False Evidence: A Legal Thriller by James Chandler

False Evidence: A Legal Thriller follows the story of lawyer Sam Johnstone, who has recently lost two of the most influential people in his life, as he’s enduring a falling-out with his longtime business partner and has recently gone through a breakup with his girlfriend. Sam decides it’s time to take a break from work, love, and life. So, he plans a trip to help himself get away from it all. 

He’s about to head out of town when he gets a phone call from the wife of the president of a local college—her husband has gone missing, and she doesn’t know where to turn. Eventually, the wife is charged with murder. Sam is appointed to represent her and can’t figure out where she’s lying and where she’s telling the truth. Sam must hyper-focus on the case at hand—not his struggles—to get to the bottom of the mystery.

“Never forget that while the pursuit of truth might well be the ideal, our system is built upon the pursuit of justice—a very different thing. In pursuing truth, facts are really all that matter. In pursuing justice, however, much more comes into play. Bottom line: don’t let the facts confuse or distract you.”

James Chandler, False Evidence: A Legal Thriller

10. The Lawyer by John Ellsworth

Michael Gresham is a lawyer committed to supporting his clients and uncovering the truth, and in The Lawyer, readers see whether he can stick to his morals when his career is on the line. He’s about to be kicked out of the law firm he started, and he decides to take on the riskiest case of his lifetime. Gresham defends a judge accused of murdering his wife and knows that one wrong move could destroy everything he’s worked for. Readers get to see Gresham wrestle with whether he should tell the truth–and potentially ruin his life in the process. 

“The stuff that matters just didn’t win out. Especially when I argued my motion to challenge his competency to stand trial. In the end, we lost that too, which means the government is drawing ever nearer to succeeding in its quest to execute a man who is one point above the cutoff for mental retardation. One IQ point, and there would have been no trial.”

John Ellsworth, The Lawyer

Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best books by Harold Robbins!

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  • Amanda has an M.S.Ed degree from the University of Pennsylvania in School and Mental Health Counseling and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. She has experience writing magazine articles, newspaper articles, SEO-friendly web copy, and blog posts.