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The Firm () Top 100 Books of the Millenium

    Why are so many lawyers dabbling in fiction? The question is a timely one in light of the current
    rash of legal suspense novels. In the last nine months my agent alone has received 117 unsolicited
    manuscripts from lawyers. He liked one of them.

    There are several reasons, I think. First, every lawyer has a good story. We lawyers get involved
    with people who have messed up their lives, and their mistakes make fascinating stories. Street
    lawyers see the underbelly of society. Corporate lawyers see high-stakes shenanigans. And since law
    school and bar exams require some measure of talent with the written word, lawyers think they can
    add a twist here and a subplot there and produce a real thriller. Second, most lawyers would rather
    be doing something else. The profession is overcrowded and the competition is fierce. Most of the
    work is terribly boring. There is tremendous dissatisfaction within the profession, and almost every
    lawyer I know is looking for a way out. Third, lawyers dream of big, quick money. A gruesome car
    wreck, an oil spill, a fat fee for a leveraged buyout, a large retainer from a white-collar defendant.
    It just goes with the turf. A nice advance against royalties, some foreign rights, maybe a movie
    deal, and suddenly there's cash galore.
           -John Grisham (The Rise of the Legal Thriller, New York Times Book Review)

There are so many reasons to hate John Grisham that one hardly knows where to begin.  Let's see:  he's a plaintiff's attorney, a politician, a Democrat, a relative of Bill Clinton, a sanctimonious ass, and so on.  But worst of all, he's a stunningly mediocre novelist who also happens to have sold more books in the 1990's than any other author--I think the estimate is 60 million books.  Most of that stuff he can be forgiven, but think of all the hours that were wasted reading those 60 million books.

The Firm is fairly a typical: a young man who is so stupid as to not realize he's just joined a Mafia-front law firm, is still smart enough to outwit the Mob and the Feds.  The only interesting issue that I can think of here is that we're supposed to overlook things like his greed, infidelity and general callowness because he's the little guy going up against the big guys.  This seems to capture Grisham's essential view of life: little guy good, big guy bad.

Sadly, it is also pretty much the basis for modern legal practice.  Lawyers find someone to say that some deep pocketed entity did some kind of damage to their client and then hope that either a jury will resent the big guy enough or the big guy will want the suit over with enough to hand the client a big cash settlement, which, by the way, the lawyer gets one third of, plus expenses. For forty years now these attorneys have had a compliant Press and collusive Lawmakers (since most of them are lawyers too) to aid them in demonizing the big guys and so the system has pretty much worked to their advantage, with companies paying off for almost wholly imagined harms from stuff like breast implants and Agent Orange (see Orrin's review of A Civil Action (1995)(Jonathan Harr) (Grade: C+)).  Of course, the unspoken consequence of these suits is that effective products get removed from the market or have their prices driven up, but what the heck, it makes for a nice story when John Q. Public gets a $50 million award from those nasty pharmaceutical companies, doesn't it?

Try this for me; the next time you're reading a John Grisham (or one of his many imitators) or watching one of the movie versions, root against the hero.  Two things make this particularly rewarding--if you really invest yourself in rooting for the bad guys, you can create some artificial suspense, the same way you can convince yourself that the Red Sox have a chance if you're a Boston fan.  Also, almost without exception, the bad guys are more interesting and likable anyway.  Just consider the movie version of this book--asked to choose between Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman for the fourth man in your golf foursome, who would actually pick Cruise?


Grade: (D)


Book-related and General Links:
    -John Grisham (Random House)
    -ESSAY:  CRIME/MYSTERY; The Rise of the Legal Thriller: Why Lawyers Are Throwing the Books at Us (John Grisham, NY Times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW: (Ellen Kanner, Book Page)
    -INTERVIEW with John Grisham (Jesse Kornbluth, The Book Report)
    -INTERVIEW: (PHIL MCCARTY, Cavalier Daily)
    -PROFILE: Grisham reflects on death penalty,  faith's influence on novel writing (Mark Wingfield, Baptist Standard)
    -PROFILE: Grisham's Gospel: This time out, the best-selling king of legal thrillers finds adventure and salvation in Brazil. (Malcolm Jones, Newsweek)
    -MWP: John Grisham (1955-)(Mississippi Writers Page)
    -Mississippi State University: John Grisham
    -John Grisham (The Mississippi Writers and Musicians Project of Starkville High)
    -Howard Barich's Page about John Grisham
    -John Grisham (
    -John Grisham Book Reviews (Fan site)
    -John Grisham (Book Browse)'s special John Grisham feature
    -ESSAY: Romantic Racialism: A Comparison (William Wesley)
    -ESSAY: Using Change to Beat "The Grisham Factor"  by Herbert E. Cihak and Judith Morgan    (Volume 12 Number 4, June 1998, Marketing Library Services)
    -ESSAY: John Grisham's Rudy Baylor and Some Reflections on Legal Education ( Professor James R. Elkins College of Law, West Virginia University)
    -ESSAY: Grisham's Laws: Bad legal fiction drives out the good.  (Steve Chippendale, Hudson Institute)
    -ESSAY: When jet sets into a Firm formula (Andrew Billen , Friday October 29, 1993, Books Unlimited)
    -ESSAY: The Death of an Honorable Profession  (Carl T. Bogus, Indiana Law Journal)
    -ESSAY: FRED RODELL'S CASE AGAINST THE LAW (KEN VINSON, Florida State University Law Review)
    -ARTICLE: CNN - Grisham ranks as top-selling author of decade - December 31, 1999
    -ARTICLE: THE MEDIA BUSINESS: Publishing; Forget Those Legal Briefs: Novels by Lawyers Pay Off (Esther B. Fein, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE: BOOK NOTES; Nobody Can Keep Pace With John Grisham (MARY B. W. TABOR, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Firm (Law4U)
    -REVIEW: of The Firm, by John Grisham (Brian Bogart)
    -REVIEW: of The Firm (Chelsea, SmartGirl)
    -REVIEW: of THE STREET LAWYER By John Grisham (1998)(Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE RUNAWAY JURY By John Grisham (1996)(Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE RAINMAKER By John Grisham (1995)(Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Chamber By John Grisham (1994)(Walter Goodman, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE PELICAN BRIEF By John Grisham (1992)(Frank J. Prial, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Pelican Brief By John Grisham  (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)

    -INFO: The Firm (1993) (Imdb)
    -Reviews (Epinion)