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Ina R. Bort is an attorney at Kornstein Veisz Wexler & Pollard. Her reviews are available online at www.angelfire.com/ny5/bortonbooks”>www.angelfire.com/ny5/bortonbooks. Let us take a few moments to delve into the psyche of John Grisham, at least as manifested in his 15th novel, “The King of Torts.” What is it about mass tort lawyers that makes John so darn mad? Oh he’s mad alright. According to Mr. Grisham, there isn’t a plaintiff’s lawyer out there with a shred of morality. To a man (and they are all men, it seems), they play the same evil game. The game’s rules are simple: find a target, like a fat manufacturing company with a product that has gone very wrong (e.g., maimed a few thousand people). Advertise on television and the newspapers to attract clients. Amass a group of tens of thousands of plaintiffs injured by the faulty product, keeping the media (and, therefore, your target) fully informed all the while, and file your complaint, if that’s even necessary. It probably won’t be, since by that point your target will be begging you for a quiet settlement, consisting of tens, or hundreds, of millions, or billions, of dollars. Oh, and one more detail: if you’ve done your job right, those pesky plaintiffs will get a pittance of that sum, while you, without ever having to take a deposition, draft a motion, or step foot in the courtroom, will get enough to buy your own airplane, Caribbean villa, Georgetown mansion, Porsche and, of course, brainless blonde model/porn star/actress! Come on, John, surely some mass tort lawyers out there are fighting the good fight, brokering favorable settlements or winning fair verdicts for their clients? If the cast of cardboard characters in “The King of Torts” is any indication, the answer is apparently not. These gluttons of greed are basking in their ill-gotten gains, without giving a moment’s thought to those poor people they’ve lured in with empty promises of big cash settlements. And these supposed lawyers haven’t done any work that even approximates the practice of law. Even the annoying hero of this deadly dull morality tale is no hero at all. That’s Jarrett Clay Carter who, when we meet him, is a financially impaired public defender in Washington, D.C. He’s plain miserable, deriving zero gratification from his never-ending workload. No matter that he’s helping to bring justice to the wrongly accused or to the district’s most down-and-out citizens, his life is in the toilet, from his perspective. To make matters worse, his relationship with his girlfriend, Rebecca, is heading nowhere fast. All seems lost for poor Mr. Clay (not to mention the plot) until Max Pace appears. Max is a mysterious fellow who purports to be a headhunter. Through a series of absurd events too boring and idiotic to describe, Mr. Pace hands Mr. Clay his first big class action and, in the process, unshackles Mr. Clay from his humdrum life and transforms him into a mega-bucks mass tort lawyer, with a firm of his very own. Thanks, Max! The transition is seamless for Mr. Clay. He finds it quite easy to adapt to obscene wealth (he collects over $100 million for himself in one year) and quickly learns the few skills required of the mass tort lawyer. Of course it’s not clear what, other than an utter lack of scruples, those skills actually are, since Mr. Grisham’s point is that lawyerly skill is no prerequisite to success in this field. Even Mr. Clay, a veteran of public service, barely acknowledges the wrongs he’s committing enroute to the financial stratosphere. For the most part, he could care less that his quick settlements with huge pharmaceutical firms, while exceedingly lucrative to him thanks to his significant contingency fee, in no way vindicate his clients’ claims. It’s hard to blame Mr. Clay for his cavalier indifference, he hasn’t even met any of his clients (his drone underlings take care of managing the details), and it’s so hard to work up the energy to feel guilty when you’re sunning yourself on the deck of your new yacht or being straddled by your new porn-star girlfriend. One bizarre (and tedious beyond belief) aspect of the book is Mr. Grisham’s obsessive detailing of how Mr. Clay spends his money. You’d think that it would be fun to tag along with Mr. Clay on his brash shopping sprees, but Mr. Grisham doesn’t give us the pleasure. Instead, he devotes long passages to summaries of the balance sheet of Mr. Clay’s law firm, where he details the amounts being spent in overhead and the like, as compared to profits coming in. Isn’t that fascinating? Of course not, but what is interesting is the seething tone that Mr. Grisham adopts in these sections. If you listen closely, you can actually hear his blood boiling as he describes Mr. Clay’s profligacy. Mr. Grisham paints such an ugly picture of Mr. Clay and his cronies that it’s not clear who are the more egregious tortfeasors in this book: the cold-hearted manufacturers who create profitable products that cause tumors and brain damage, or the lawyers who sacrifice their own clients’ interests to their insatiable greed. Returning to our penetrating psychological exploration, Mr. Grisham, as it turns out, really dislikes so-called lawyers who have no appreciable skills, who nevertheless make millions of dollars a year without contributing much value at all to society, and without coming close to practicing law. And how, Mr. Grisham, former-attorney-turned-multimillionaire-novelist, are you feeling about yourself these days? Been looking inward lately, wondering if your unparalleled economic success was in any way deserved? As far as I could tell, there’s no good reason to read “The King of Torts.” But if it can teach us anything, it is that John Grisham needs a better therapist. Ina R. Bort is an attorney at Kornstein Veisz Wexler & Pollard. Her reviews are available online at www.angelfire.com/ny5/bortonbooks.

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