Monday, May 08, 2006

Law in Literature: The King of Torts - a short review

King of Torts
I just finished reading John Grisham's King of Torts. It was a very entertaining read and fairly creative. It was equally frustrating - almost maddening - to read. The main character, Clay, gets handed a supposed "lottery winning" opportunity, but he never really suffers any kind of ethical struggle with himself. I began very early on to think that he was a loser, just like his father who had been disbarred some years before. As usual, Grisham attempts to smooth over the ethical issues, and make it more of a struggle about taking risks to make mega-bucks.

I was pretty shocked by the $ figures peppered throughout the book. I had no idea of the extent of mass tort litigation, or the numbers involved. The book was convincing in many instances - i.e. that this kind of back room manipulation through tort litigation could make or ruin corporations. As well, it was pretty fascinating to read about what the life of mega-lawyers might be like. How anyone could possibly justify purchasing a $42M private jet is completely beyond me, and I would rather choose to live my life in a more simplified bubble than contemplate such things. I often have a hard time charging someone the rates that I do to write them a will, or do a real estate transaction. Taking 30% of a multi-million dollar settlement would certainly cause me to pause, I think.

One other thing that really bothered me about this book, as with some of Grisham's other books, is the seemingly easy transition from law school, or in this case, from being a lowly lawyer at the district attorney's office, to mega-law firm or mega-litigation. Again, Grisham glosses over the idea that it might take more than reading over a few rules of court, or asking a couple veteran colleagues what needs to happen to succeed. I think that you would have better odds of winning big on slot machines than of succeeding in the big leagues of law without proper and lengthy preparation (i.e. years) before taking on the big case(s). But, I guess that is what makes good American legal drama - that David vs. Goliath set-up, and in this case, that emulation of the fall of David from a situation that could have been so easy and ultimately satisfying.

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