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In the Shadow of the Law

Review

In the Shadow of the Law



Reading Kermit Roosevelt's IN THE SHADOW OF THE LAW, one is
reminded of the admonition that judges give juries in American
courtrooms: "Keep an open mind, do not come to any conclusions in
the case until you have heard all of the evidence that will be
presented." This highly publicized and well-reviewed maiden novel
by law school professor Roosevelt drags somewhat in its middle
portions, but it makes a sufficiently strong recovery in its
concluding pages to warrant a recommendation for those readers who
favor the style of legal fiction followed by authors such as Scott
Turow.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE LAW takes the reader behind the scenes of a
fictional powerhouse Washington D.C. law firm. Morgan Siler, the
firm in question, has all the attributes that one expects of a
major K Street law firm in our nation's capital. Patrician partners
cultivate corporate clients willing to pay enormous fees. Young
associates are ground into hourly billing robots whose sole mission
as lawyers is to find a way to bill 25 hours in a 24-hour day.
Along the way the associates worry about whether they will become
partners in order to do to the next wave of associates what has
been done to them. The work is difficult, the days are long and the
only thing missing from the equation is an important word:
justice.

Roosevelt, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law
School, writes on a subject in which he is well-versed. He served
as a law clerk to a Supreme Court Justice, as does one of his major
characters, and later worked at major law firms in Chicago, New
York and Washington, D.C. One envisions the author gleefully
sitting at his word processor, thinking of past acquaintances that
he portrays in his novel as ruthless, greedy and heartless
individuals totally wrapped up in their own selfish endeavors to
live a life of wealth and power. Many former acquaintances of
Professor Roosevelt undoubtedly will speculate on the real-life
identities of his fictional characters.

The novel focuses on two important cases handled by Morgan Siler
and the partners and associates assigned to that litigation. In
addition, readers will meet senior partner Peter Morgan, a legacy
of the firm's founding partner. Every negative stereotype that one
can conjure up about an attorney has been rolled into Peter Morgan.
Not only is he a cold-hearted evil lawyer, in the end he turns out
to be a disgusting human being. So many malevolent characters
dominate IN THE SHADOW OF THE LAW that the reader searches in vain
for one attorney to admire. In 368 pages, no such individual can be
found.

In a class action lawsuit brought against a chemical company for an
explosion at one of their plants, the reader learns how scorched
earth litigation can be used to bring the wheels of justice to an
abrupt halt. The partners and associates from Morgan Siler have
several goals in defending this action. They seek to delay or deny
the production of crucial evidence and take whatever steps can be
taken to fight a war of attrition against the lawyers seeking
recovery. Such action of course requires the billing of substantial
hours and resulting enormous legal fees, costs that the client pays
willingly because they still are far less than the price of a
judgment against the company.

In the second case, the firm has accepted pro bono
representation of a Virginia man on death row. Even this noble task
has selfish motives. The firm has accepted this case because young
associates often have a noble streak in their make-up. The firm
accepts this type of work as a project for summer associates who
find this type of work exciting. But the Virginia case has dragged
beyond the summer and now associates must be pulled from billable
hours to handle this litigation. To their credit they achieve
justice for their client, as well as glory that the firm is only
too glad to accept.

After reading IN THE SHADOW OF THE LAW it is hard to predict what
future novels by Kermit Roosevelt will yield. His characters are
entertaining and his plots maintain the readers' interest. But he
needs to write less like a lawyer and more like a novelist to keep
readers coming back to his future efforts. After all, most of us
who enjoy courtroom novels are not lawyers. We care much less about
the intricacies of major law firms than we do about page-turning,
exciting plots. Remembering that fact will make Roosevelt's next
effort even more readable.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 22, 2011

In the Shadow of the Law
by Kermit Roosevelt

  • Publication Date: May 26, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • ISBN-10: 0374261873
  • ISBN-13: 9780374261870