Between the Covers: Stories from My Bookcase

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The King of Torts by John Grisham

I haven’t read a John Grisham novel in a long time. The last one was probably his non-fiction work, The Innocent Man. More recently, it’s Scottoline whose been supplying me with all the dose of legal thriller I’ve needed. Smile

Photo Nov 24, 8 01 26 PM

I think I was in high school when John Grisham became highly popular. Or at least that was when he got my attention. I remember reading one of his novels and realizing how much I wanted to be a lawyer. It also made me think about the concepts of justice and injustice. But in recent years, I haven’t read much of his work. We no longer troop to the bookstore to get his latest release. I’m not sure why.

Now The King of Torts isn’t like previous Grisham bestsellers that I remember. Instead of being set in the South like his older novels, this one is set in Washington, D.C. The main protagonist is Clay Carter a public defender whose life changed so much in almost like a blink of an eye. In what he thought was a routine preparation for the defense of yet another murder case, he stumbles on something, just what it was he didn’t know exactly. But it changes his life nonetheless.

He takes the word of Max Pace, whose origins he couldn’t determine, and gambles his life on it. In the beginning it pays off. From being penniless, he moves on to become a hotshot lawyer overnight with offices set in prime real estate. From his first case, he moves on to the next big one. His law firm grows, and he is able to make a lot of people happy.

Then the big boys in tort law hear about him so they want him to be part of their circle. This is probably when things started to turn for the young lawyer. He started believing them when they said that in order to make money, he has to spend more money. That’s true yes, but some of those spending were not really necessary. I almost wished he had some sort of diversion, a hobby maybe. If he played any musical instrument, he might have had something else to divert his attention to rather than just always being about work. 

But it wasn’t just the spending that worried me about Clay. I worried about his spirit, how he was losing it. And how he was risking everything he had. And he didn’t even need to. He earned so much money already, he could have literally stopped and retired a happy man already.

Because there was more than one case and hundreds/thousands of clients, the novel didn’t focus on any single one. Rather, it seemed that the novel really sought to educate the reader about tort law and its practice. It’s about how class action lawsuits happen. It’s about how they are won, and who benefits most from them. The lawyers invest in research, in attracting clients, and then in going after the companies. There is no guarantee that the case will be won, but they sign as many clients as they can. The clients themselves don’t stand to get too much money, just enough to compensate them for the inconvenience caused by a defective product. And the lawyers get 20% from each one. So yes it’s a number’s game.

Apparently many law firms in the US have hit jackpot because of this practice. But undoubtedly, many companies probably have gone under for having to pay off each complainant. There is a whole system already in place for cases like this.

As for Clay? In the end he lost his law firm and he had to file for bankruptcy. But life is still good because he had friends willing to help him out. And he still gets the girl in the end. Smile