A John Grisham bestseller is as expected as the turning of leaves in autumn. The Mississippi attorney has sold more than 250 million copies of his books, and each new one is eagerly anticipated by avid fans of courtroom fiction. Grisham’s last novel, THE CONFESSION, was recently recognized by the American Bar Association and the University of Alabama Law School, who awarded him its first Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. One of Grisham’s endearing qualities as a writer is his unending ability to avoid formula novels. He writes riveting fiction that also speaks to important and contemporary legal issues. A collection of his writing could easily serve as a foundation for a law school course on great legal issues.
"THE LITIGATORS...telegraphs much of the plot but remains an enjoyable and entertaining novel that points out the foibles of the justice system from top to bottom."
THE LITIGATORS is Grisham’s latest novel, and once again he shows a willingness to take on an important legal issue. In addition, he spreads his wings outside of his beloved South or Washington, D.C., to situate the book in Chicago, a venue that many of his readers may find surprising.
The title refers to Oscar Finley and Wally Figg, an odd couple of the legal profession who are the sole members of the “boutique” Chicago law firm Finley & Figg. Actually, the term “boutique” is an exaggeration of epic proportion. But things change when the firm acquires substantial cachet with the hiring of David Zinc, a Harvard law graduate. The circumstances behind this arrival are in keeping with Finley & Figg’s style. Zinc joins after experiencing five years of burnout associate work at the giant Chicago law firm of Rogan Rothberg. Arriving there one morning, Zinc can no longer accept the grind of 80-hour work weeks. While riding the elevator to his office, he experiences a breakdown and detours to a tavern around the corner. Twelve hours later, after a plethora of cocktails, he finds himself at the Finley & Figg office. The next day, he signs on as its only associate.
As noted, Grisham's novels are no longer just suspense-packed adventures. He now uses the pages of his bestsellers as a pulpit for commentary on contemporary legal issues. THE CONFESSION was a sermon against the death penalty, and THE APPEAL was a homily against the evil of an American legal system spending millions on the election of judges. The lecture subject of THE LITIGATORS is mass tort litigation, a system that makes millionaires out of lawyers on both sides of the legal battle but does little to compensate the actual victims. Readers are probably familiar with one of the cornerstones of this type of litigation: national appeals to potential plaintiffs through advertisements on television, radio or newspapers. In THE LITIGATORS, the culprit is Krayoxx, an anti-cholesterol drug that may be causing heart attacks and strokes.
Along the way, Grisham paints a portrait of a legal system run amuck. Readers will ponder how much of the portrayal is truth and how much is literary license. Everyone knows about the Gulfstream jets, the lavish meetings and the exorbitant fees. Taped phone calls and assembly line medical practices seem to be somewhat over the top, but Grisham’s track record lends credence to these seemingly hyperbolic descriptions.
The contrast between the scheming lawyers and the honest fighter, in this case David Zinc, is a Grisham staple. While the mass tort lawyers cut corners and scheme, Zinc methodically investigates the injury to a young Burmese boy. He must build his lawsuit at great cost. Clearly, Zinc is the lawyer Grisham admires and respects. He is the honest attorney of the novel, who loses and then regains his respect for the law and for justice.
THE LITIGATORS is standard Grisham fare. It telegraphs much of the plot but remains an enjoyable and entertaining novel that points out the foibles of the justice system from top to bottom. As a nation we love the law, warts and all. Anyone watching television or reading newspapers or books can plainly see our fascination. Grisham has certainly used that interest in the legal system to great advantage. The law has given him fertile fields to cultivate, and we eagerly await the harvest of his next novel.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on August 9, 2011