This past Tuesday, October 25, 2011, John Grisham's new legal drama "The Litigators" was released to the public. The release of Grisham's novels are usually highly anticipated by his numerous fans, and rightly so. This newest novel only justifies the excitement stirred by the idea of a new book from America's best storyteller.
Early in his career, Grisham's novels were considered legal thrillers, stories that mixed law and courtrooms with spies, the mob, violence, and suspense. In recent years, Grisham's novels have become a podium from which the author can present an issue about law or government that he feels is important along with his personal opinion on the subject ("The Appeal" and "The Confession" are two such novels, the first expressing disgust at companies who bankroll election hopefuls in exchange for political favors; the second expressing disdain for the death penalty). In this new work, Grisham attacks the issue of mass tort cases and lawyers. As Grisham explains in the novel, mass tort lawyers (or ambulance chasers) find flaws in medication or other substances consumed by people and sniff out as many clients as possible who want to sue the manufacturer of the product. These lawyers claim to have the best interests of the public in mind, but in actuality they are more concerned with raking in 40% of the settlement. When reading this book, it is clear that Grisham as no respect for such lawyers and is calling for laws to limit their ability to take advantage of thousands of people.
The story itself is brilliantly put together. With a combination of quirky characters, some subtle humor, and courtroom theatrics, John Grisham eloquently tells the story of David Zinc, a young lawyer and husband who finds the world of big law firms, 80 hour work weeks, and no vacations too much to handle. In an almost comical string of events, David finds himself working for the law firm of Finely and Figg, a two-man law firm run by street lawyers Oscar Finely and Wally Figg. Working on a hunch from a client, the three tort-inexperienced lawyers are suddenly on the front lines of a nation-wide tort case against a highly respected, but controversial, drug company.
Throughout the book, there are a cast of characters that represent real-life roles Grisham observes in the world of mass torts. Wally Figg represents the small-time lawyer with dreams of big money, and it is obvious when reading that Grisham's advice to similar lawyers is to stay with what they know when practicing law. They have no idea what they are getting into with massive federal cases (which most tort cases are). A mass tort lawyer named Jerry Alisandros represents the multimillionaire tort lawyers who constantly survey the medical world looking for a defective drug. The cold-hearted, greedy, and dismissive characterization of Alisandros summarizes the author's feelings about lawyers who share the same specialty. David Zinc, the protagonist of the book, represents the lawyers Grisham has the most respect for: lawyers who sacrifice, but still put their own families first; lawyers who work hard but are working for their clients and not for a big check; lawyers who play by the rules instead of searching for loopholes.
In all of the books I have read by John Grisham, I have never found myself cheering for a specific character more than I was cheering for David Zinc. His compassion, dedication, family values, willingness to learn, and high regard for professional ethics defy the stereotype most of us assign to lawyers. There are lawyers who are greedy, sleazy, and highly unethical; and Grisham certainly shows his agreement through his antagonist tort lawyer characters. However, through the character of David Zinc, Grisham calls our attention to the lawyers who truly are working hard to help people. His constant defense of his clients, coworkers, and family make it literally impossible not to like or identify with him in at least a minor way.
Every John Grisham novel is great in its own way, but "The Litigators" is by far his best work since "The Broker" in 2005. If a reader would like to read another book about torts, but one that can be more classified as a thriller, consider "The King of Torts," another Grisham novel, that was released in 2003. In this earlier book Grisham does not voice an opinion about torts, but does show them from a different point of view. Reading both will without a doubt increase any reader's opinion of John Grisham as a masterful writer and storyteller.