A Civil Action

by Jonathan Harr

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Boston: July 1986

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Last Updated on February 20, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 267

At the beginning of Jonathan Harr’s A Civil Action, lawyer Jan Schlichtmann is lying in bed in his apartment in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston. He is dreaming about a group of jurors when he is awakened by the telephone. The call concerns the imminent repossession of his Porsche 928.

Schlichtmann agrees to cooperate with the sheriff and walks to the garage to retrieve his vehicle. As the sheriff cleans out the Porsche, he notices papers from a current court case and asks if Schlichtmann is a lawyer. He confirms and offers small talk about the case. Once the officer is finished, he hands Schlichtmann the trash bag containing his items, gets in the Porsche, and drives off. Schlichtmann doesn’t seem to be perturbed; he tells himself, “Easy come, easy go.”

Two days later, Schlichtmann heads to the courthouse in hopes the case he is working on will finally be settled. If he doesn’t win this case, his firm will lose everything. He has three mortgages, he can barely pay the support staff in the office, and on this day, he has to walk, because he can’t afford a cab. However, Schlichtmann has more to worry about than money. His pride, his reputation, and his confidence are also at stake, and the thought of losing his station in life is far more terrifying than going broke. The jury had been out for a week, and Schlichtmann’s purpose, his essence, would be lost if he loses this case. He enters the corridor just before the courtroom and waits for the day to begin.

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