Counsel for the Situation

Shaping the Law to Realize America's Promise

"Bill Coleman’s story is one that younger generations should mark and inwardly digest, lest they forget the pioneers who helped to make a better America possible."
—From the Foreword by Stephen G. Breyer

William Coleman has spent a lifetime opening doors and breaking down barriers. He has been an eyewitness to history; moreover, he has made history. This is his inspiring story, in his own words.

Americans of color faced daunting barriers in the 1940s. Despite graduating first in his class at Harvard Law and clerking for Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, Coleman was shut out of major East Coast law firms. But as the Philadelphia native writes, “The times, they were a’changing.” He not only benefited from that change—he helped propel it, by way of dogged determination, undeniable intellect, and stellar accomplishment.

Coleman’s legal work with Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund helped jumpstart the civil rights movement in the 1950s. He was the first American of color to clerk for the Supreme Court, and later served as senior counsel to the Warren Commission, investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In 1975 he was appointed secretary of transportation by President Gerald Ford—the first American of color to serve in a Republican cabinet—and in 1995 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton.

At his core, Bill Coleman is a lawyer. He strives to be a “counsel for the situation”—an advocate able to take on major matters in a variety of legal disciplines while upholding the highest traditions of justice and the public interest. He is fiercely proud of the legal profession’s role in a democratic society and free economy, and he is grateful for the opportunities that profession has afforded him in the court room, the board room, and the corridors of power. It is through this prism that he relates his own story—his life and the law.

The results speak for themselves, and in this immensely entertaining chronicle, the Counsel for the Situation speaks for himself.

Advance Praise for the Book:

"This is much more than an autobiography, although it is one of the best I have ever read. It is a history of our times. Bill Coleman has provided us with one more act of public service in this fascinating and wide-ranging memoir."
—David Rockefeller, former chairman, Council on Foreign Relations, and CEO, Chase Manhattan Bank

"This must-read book is written by a truly great American who has demonstrated great love of our country. Anchored by the fundamentals of hard work, excellence, sacrifice, and purpose, Bill Coleman has written an excellent tutorial for those interested in the legal profession and public service."
—Vernon E. Jordan Jr., former president and CEO, National Urban League

"Bill Coleman’s recollections of conversations and dealings with notable personalities—presidents, Supreme Court justices, cabinet officers, and business and community leaders—not only make his commentary a fascinating read but, importantly, a must-read for all Americans to understand more clearly the fundamental principles that make our nation ‘a more perfect union.
—Carla A. Hills, former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development

"Generations of Americans will be indebted to Secretary Coleman. His remarkable story is beautifully set forth in this thoughtful and compelling book. His fierce intellect, diligence, and uncommon integrity have been brought to bear on scores of challenging and pivotal issues spanning nearly a century."
—Thurgood Marshall Jr.

"William Coleman belongs to the diminishing breed of distinguished citizen-statesmen who never sought the limelight, but whose brilliant intellect brought him to the pinnacle of success in the legal field, whose passion for justice drove his commitment to civil rights, and whose sense of obligation to serve his country led him to the highest echelons of government. His engaging memoir sums up his exceptional life with the insight and wisdom which have defined it."
—Henry Kissinger, former U.S. secretary of state