Grisham's Legal Tales: a Compass for the Young Lawyer

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Citation: 48 UCLA L. Rev. 1431 2000-2001 Content downloaded/printed from HeinOnline (http://heinonline.org) Sun Apr 14 02:44:53 2013 -- Your use of this HeinOnline PDF indicates your acceptance of HeinOnline's Terms and Conditions of the license agreement available at http://heinonline.org/HOL/License -- The search text of this PDF is generated from uncorrected OCR text. -- To obtain permission to use this article beyond the scope of your HeinOnline license, please use: https://www.copyright.com/ccc/basicSearch.do? &operation=go&searchType=0 &lastSearch=simple&all=on&titleOrStdNo=0041-5650

GRISHAM'S LEGAL TALES: A MORAL COMPASS FOR THE YOUNG LAWYER

John B. Owens
No one sold more books in the 1990s than John Grisham. While his books often paint lawyers in the worst light, his legal tales also provide a compass to guide young lawyers and save them from moral bankruptcy-the path of the "street lawyer." The street lawyer represents the downtrodden against the powerful-big law firms, prosecutors, and judges-through tactics that violate the ethical codes for lawyers. This essay examines Grisham's legal tales and their message to young lawyers, contrasts that message with traditionalnotions of the honorable practice of law, and asks who a client in need would prefer-the noble Atticus Finch of To Kill A Mockingbird or the "unethical" street lawyer of Grisham'slegal tales.

143 1 IN TRO DU CTIO N .................................................................... 1435 I. GRISHAM'S MORAL COMPASS-THE STREET LAWYER .................................. 1438 II. T HE PA TH FIN DER ...............................................................

1440 I1. T HEH ERO ........................................................

INTRODUCTION John Grisham released his latest book, A Painted House,' earlier this 2 year. Combining themes from To Kill a Mockingbird, Where the Red Fern Grows,3 and The Grapes of Wrath,4 it is one of Grisham's shortest books, and easily his best. But other than a few sentences about how a jury in Black Oak, Arkansas, will never convict a man who has killed another in a street fight,5 A Painted House has nothing to do with the law or lawyers, Grisham's *

Associate, O'Melveny & Myers, Washington, D.C. A.B., University of California,

Berkeley, 1993; J.D., Stanford Law School, 1996. The author thanks Michael Asimow, John Lindow, the UCLA Law Review, and especially Marjorie Purcell for their advice and support. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of mob hit men, evil partners, Brazilian kidnappers, or other sinister forces that can make the lives of associates at large law firms difficult. JOHN GRISHAM, A PAINTED HOUSE (2001) [hereinafter A PAINTED HOUSE]. 1. 2. HARPER LEE, To KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1960).

3. WILSON RAWLS, WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS: THE STORY OF Two DOGS AND A BoY (1961). 4. JOHN STEINBECK, THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1939). 5. See A PAINTED HOUSE, supra note 1,at 189.

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bread and butter. So this Essay will not discuss his latest book. However, it will focus on Grisham's'next book. Through some publishing industry connections, I was able to obtain a copy of the dust jacket for his next book: On a stormy summer night in Washington, D.C., a young,

hardworking associate at a multinational juggernaut law firm that

represents huge, multinational corporations receives a phone call from a mysterious man he's never met; a man 3,000 miles away, who asks the associate to attend a meeting six months later in Los

Angeles. According to this man, at the meeting will be some of the legal profession's greatest minds, including professors and judges. The man promises that it will be a wonderful opportunity for the associate, an experience that he will never forget. His Firm approves the trip without hesitation, even though the trip obviously will cut

into his billable hours, and therefore, the...
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