The King of Torts
John Grisham
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The King of Torts
John Grisham
400 pages
December 2005
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Ever seen those ads on TV where the actor playing the lawyer looks at you straight in the eye and appeals to you," If you or a loved one, has taken this medication...etc. etc., call toll free, you may be entitled to some money…?" Ever wondered how those ads promise all that "compensation" because there was some side effect that wasn’t disclosed properly? Or where those lawyers get that research on which pharmaceutical companies? Do the regular average Joes actually get their money? Yes, but the lawyer is the one who profits. The fine small print at the bottom of the forms says that the lawyer gets a third of your settlement. And a third from the other thousands of clients.

Just because the big corporations are terrified of juries who may, rightfully or wrongfully, award billions of dollars in damages to the plaintiffs. It’s smarter to settle for measly millions to be split among those who are among the pool of candidates. Is this legal? Ethical? Moral? What makes these lawyers, these kings of torts tick ("tort", by the way, is a private or civil wrong or injury, including action for bad faith breach of contract, for which the court will provide a remedy in the form of an action for damages)?

John Grisham's The King of Torts, a fast-paced, edgy legal thriller with surprises and twists along the way, answers these and other questions as we follow the rise and fall of one lawyer who gives in to temptation. The cynical attitude of greedy money-grabbing lawyers and their legal games form the backdrop for the story of Clay Carter, a burned-out public defender in Washington D.C. As a young litigator, he is hungry for his big break in a prestigious upscale law firm. With a twelve-year-old Honda Accord pushing two hundred thousand miles and an apartment in an aging complex, Carter moves up to a quaint $1.3 million dollar townhouse in Georgetown and a black Porsche.

Tort litigation is perhaps the lowest form of law…"Just make the money. It’s a racket. It has nothing to do with being a lawyer. Find ‘em, sign ‘em. Settle ‘em, take the money and run." It’s a whole different ball game. It is also an exclusive club that other lawyers are lining up to get into. To learn about torts, they offer seminars and getaways. And for one weekend, lawyers pay $5,000 to fraternize with a bunch of mass torts lawyers, among the best known in the country. At these conferences, Carter is sickened by the "orgy of consumption" laid out -- too much food, too much wine, and too many expensive boy-toys, such as luxury cars, boats and private jets. No self-respecting tort lawyer can function without a decent jet. And he is aghast at the brash loud lawyers aggressively filing without knowing too much about the drugs. Yet soon he is one of these boys, complete with a trophy girlfriend, a private jet and flattering media coverage as "The King of Torts."

Initially, Carter's conscience pricks him, especially when he remembers how he sold out his first client to get into the world of mass torts. He agrees to never disclose why exactly his client went berserk and killed a man, and in return a mysterious man named Max promises him a whole new career with an opportunity at doing settlements for millions. And he never stops loving his ex, who dumps him for a husband handpicked by her snobbish country-clubbing parents. He does do some good, like hiring his staff from the OPD and giving them big bonuses and gifts like a week in Paris for all of them plus one friend each, preferably a spouse, with all expenses paid. First class air, luxury hotel, the works.

The real test in assessing the book lies in whether you like Carter or not. It is obvious he is going down -- and hard -- and we can see it coming long before he can, but do you care? The King of Torts has an immediacy to it; it fits right in with the evening news about dangerous drugs with lethal results, shouts for tort reform, insider tips for stock market trading and profiles of the instant millionaire status suddenly acquired by young people who are able to write their own ticket to success.

© 2003 by Sonia Chopra for Curled Up With a Good Book

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