ANALYZE THIS! JOHN GRISHAM'S LAWYERS FORM A MEGAFIRM
By Michael Asimow
night I dreamed that I was in a big conference room with all of the lawyers from John
Grisham's novels and we were trying to form a new law firm. It looks like we've got most
of the bases covered.
For our tax department, we'll pick up the terrific lawyers from Bandini, Lambert &
Locke, so well described in The Firm. These lawyers are untroubled by any notions of
tax ethics; indeed, they won't let our clients pay any taxes at all. Besides, they'll kill
anybody who tries to leave the firm. Maybe Mitch McDeere will return with his superb
client skills and stolen money. For our personal injury defense practice, we'll pick up
the insurance defense lawyers from The Rainmaker and the tobacco defense team from The
Runaway Jury. They won't hesitate to commit all manner of discovery abuse and jury
tampering. For our real estate department, we'll join up with those swell guys described
in The Street Lawyer who never hesitate to throw helpless people out of their homes
with fraudulent unlawful detainer actions.
For our personal injury plaintiff's practice, we'll bring back The Rainmaker's Bruiser
Stone from his Caribbean siesta. We'll also invite his paralawyer, Deck Shifflet, who
taught us so much about the niceties of ambulance chasing. For general business
litigation, we've got those lovable fellows from The Partner who think nothing of
committing massive fraud on the government and cutting one another out of the fees. This
is the kind of get up and go we can really use.
And now--we've got a probate department! The lawyers from Grisham's newest book Testament,
are vicious sharks. They know how to boost the hourly rates (as high as $600 per hour) and
they think nothing of paying a key witness to testify falsely.
Of course, a few of Grisham's lawyers won't be welcome in our
new firm. We're inviting them to leave the conference room now. For example, Rudy Baylor
of The Rainmaker is too idealistic. But after all, this chump was straight out of
law school and didn't know how to practice real law. I don't think there'll be room for
Darby Shaw whom we met as a law student in The Pelican Brief. Darby just won't play
along with normal strategy in environmental cases like assassinating inconvenient Supreme
Court justices or law professors. Besides, Rudy has left the practice and Darby never
finished law school. Neither did Nicholas, the resourceful jury fixer in The Runaway
Jury. Ellen Roark from A Time to Kill is probably done with law school by now,
but she seems to believe in justice, so has no place in our new firm.
There will be no room in this law firm for lawyers who want to work for nothing. So
tell Reggie Love to forget about joining. After all, in The Client, Reggie
represented this kid without getting paid. And so long Adam Hall; you wasted many billable
hours trying to get your granddad off Death Row The Chambe and didn't get paid a
dime. We certainly won't welcome those fools in The Street Lawyer who work for
peanuts for homeless people. None of that sort of pro bono nonsense in our new firm! I
don't think Jake Brigance from A Time to Kill will be interested (he actually cares
about his clients and works without a retainer), though his buddies Harry Rex Vonner and
Lucien Wilbanks would fit right in. In fact, Harry Rex might be just perfect for the head
of our family law department.
So what's with Grisham, anyway? He seems to hate lawyers, particularly if they are
trying to make a living practicing law. In book after book, practicing lawyers are
horrible, greedy slime-sucking crooks. Often, they get outfoxed by Grisham's heroes who
tend to be lawyers who are working for little or nothing, or by untainted law students or
fledgling associates. While this theme seems to resonate nicely with the book-buying,
lawyer-hating public, it has worn very thin with me.
Grisham's first book , A Time to Kill, was quite good. The second, The Firm, wasn't
bad (although it lacked an ending). After the smashing success of The Firm, Grisham
kept right on churning out bestsellers, but they seem hastily dashed off. The plots are
thin (really more like movie concepts). Their unidimensional characters mouth cardboard
The newly released Testament reads like a screenplay in progress tricked up as a
novel. It concerns a cranky billionaire who hates his six children (with much
justification). He executes a holographic will cutting them off just before diving
out the window. The will leaves his fortune to a previously unknown illegitimate daughter
who is a missionary in Brazil. The legitimate kids hire lawyers to contest the will. The
lawyers (and their clients) are as nasty a group of hyenas as have ever appeared between
hard covers. An attorney with severe alcohol problems sets out to find the missing heir
and has adventures in Brazil. That's about it. Save your money.
Now a will contest, featuring spoiled rotten children represented by greedy lawyers,
can make for a wonderful book. Witness David Margolick's Undue Influence about the
Seward Johnson donnybrook, a book with infinitely greater nuance, better plot, and far
more interesting characters than Grisham's Testament.
I woke up from my horrible dream in a cold sweat, relieved that I wouldn't have to hang
out with the scummy Grisham lawyers after all. Most of the lawyers I know are decent, hard
working, community-minded people, who care deeply about their clients. Most make a good
but not spectacular living practicing a tough profession in a harsh, competitive
environment. They are neither demons nor saints. Unfortunately, they have no place in John