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Do lawyer-bashing books have anything to tell lawyers? Or can they be reflexively dismissed as shallow, anecdotal and demagogic? Some do invite dismissal. Catherine Crier’s recent venture into the genre, “The Case Against Lawyers” (Broadway Books), lives down to expectations. Her book is a scattershot, inconsistent compendium of gripes — most of which you will have read elsewhere — aiming at a wide variety of worn-out targets: greedy plaintiffs’ lawyers, meddlesome regulators, scheming lobbyists, shameless criminal defense lawyers, politically compromised judges, highly paid commercial lawyers, you name it. On the other hand, Walter Olson’s latest volume, “The Rule of Lawyers” (St. Martin’s Press), which comes out in January, is a focused, healthy, provocative, enjoyable read. (Full disclosure: Olson is a friend.) Olson’s wry, amusing, libertarian take on the increasingly preposterous role that mass tort lawyers have assumed in our society — and in the funding of the Democratic Party — may not only spur many Democrats to reshuffle their standard talking points on those issues, but may even afford them some guilty, cant-piercing pleasures along the way. Speaking as a Democrat, I’d say the burgeoning scandal of the mass tort bar is our Enron. CRIER, CONDEMNING Crier was a Dallas County district judge before leaving practice for a succession of anchorwoman, correspondent and talk show host positions at CNN, ABC, Fox News and, now, Court TV. “I’m an inveterate newspaper clipper,” she writes, and after wading through this cut-and-paste book, no one will doubt her. Crier strives for a colloquial style and, unfortunately, achieves it; the book reads like the transcript of a crank venting too loudly near you on an airplane. Though Crier preaches like an orthodox libertarian in early chapters — which, as she acknowledges, owe much to Olson’s 1997 volume about employment discrimination law, “The Excuse Factory,” and to Philip Howard’s 1994 polemic against regulation, “The Death of Common Sense” — at other points she abruptly turns moderate, as when she chastises Republican presidents for putting industry lobbyists in charge of regulatory agencies: “We should expect appointments to demonstrate some support for the mission of the agency they’ve been selected to head,” she writes. Well, I agree. But then I’m not a libertarian, I favor the missions of regulatory agencies, and I’m not writing a book condemning, inter alia, the role that regulatory lawyers play in our society. MALODOROUS & NOTORIOUS, ESQ. Walter Olson, on the other hand, is a consistent libertarian. A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Olson, who is not a lawyer, authored “The Litigation Explosion,” is a frequent contributor to Reasonmagazine, and now operates the Web site www.overlawyered.com. For the many who will find his political stances off-putting, the saving grace will be that Olson is a fine, amusing writer and, if he is given a chance, proves a fairer and more accurate reporter than opponents might want to give him credit for. His latest book is a greatest hits album of scandals relating to mass tort lawyers: the tobacco litigation and its triumph over logic; the breast implant litigation and its triumph over science; the asbestos litigation and its triumph over reason; the gun litigation and its attempt to triumph over the democratic legislative process; the malodorous, symbiotic relationship between state attorneys general and the mass tort bar; the malodorous, symbiotic relationship between television magazine shows and the plaintiffs’ bar (which neither began nor ended with NBC’s notorious, staged crash test of 1992 on its show “Dateline,” in which “safety consultants” concealed incendiary devices near the gas tank of a GM pickup truck); and much, much more. Though you may feel that you already know the general trajectory of Olson’s arguments, and may feel confident of your ability to fend them off with long-held and oft-voiced counterarguments, I wouldn’t be so sure. Olson writes with a bemused, understated clarity that, over time, relentlessly forces the recalcitrant reader to step back and reassess. Of ongoing litigation brought by cities against gun manufacturers, for instance, Olson gently puzzles over a fundamental question: “Why did the litigators pick mayors as the politicos to work with this time, rather than picking the states’ attorneys general again [as they had in the tobacco suits]?” The obvious answer, he says, is that the sort of gun regulation the mass tort lawyers were seeking was generally acceptable only to citywide electorates, not statewide — let alone nationwide — electorates. Thus, the mayors of New Orleans, Atlanta and Miami became part of the suit, Olson unimpeachably observes, though they “stood virtually no chance of convincing the respective state legislatures of Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida to enact sweeping gun controls. The gun suits’ implicit message was that big cities were entitled to obtain certain kinds of nationwide gun regulation no matter what the rest of the country happened to think of the matter.” The standard liberal retort is to argue, as an editorial in The New York Timesonce did, that legislatures can’t address such problems, because of “partisan gridlock.” Olson parries, however, that “partisan gridlock” was an “odd choice of phrase, since it implied that such measures had stalled despite the wish of all parties to move forward on them, whereas the actual reason for the measures’ failure was that most lawmakers of the majority party did not support them in the first place. As a pejorative description of the normal workings of democracy, ‘partisan gridlock’ had a better sound to it than ‘We couldn’t round up the votes to win no matter how we tried.’” BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS In “Republic.com,” Professor Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago School of Law warned that the Internet, by letting citizens “customize” their news sources, could have a fragmenting and polarizing impact on democratic debate. Though Sunstein’s controversial thesis centers on what he believes to be the unique dangers of interactive technologies, his broader premise — that there are perils to the democratic system when “people are mainly listening to louder echoes of their own voices” — is unassailable. Crier’s book seems designed for just such an echo chamber, whether virtually or conventionally constructed. There it will reverberate, inflaming the fury of those who already agree with her, while standing no chance of persuading those who don’t. Olson’s, on the other hand, is that rare book that, should it ever burrow its way into the opposing camp’s conversational pipelines, could really gum up the works. Roger Parloff is a contributing editor withThe American Lawyer . He can be reached at [email protected].

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