Lawyers and Thieves

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

As the title suggests, Roy Grutman’s LAWYERS AND THIEVES offers an indictment of the American legal establishment. Ranging from stereotypical “ambulance chasers” to prestigious corporate attorneys and federal judges, Grutman paints a grim picture of the way the law works, or fails to work in terms of justice and fairness, in the United States. Himself a prominent and well-paid attorney, Grutman portrays a legal profession driven by greed and subject to frequent lapses in competence and ethics. He describes a flawed jury system, judges who make even the worst jury look good by comparison, and state legislatures owned outright by interest groups. In short, Grutman provides a field day for social critics and attorney bashers.

Yet the book suggests no systemic reforms. Grutman does grind some personal axes, as in his critique of tort reform. He also pointedly reveals the legal system’s congeniality to rich folk. Grutman’s only advice to the reader, however, is anything but radical: You can’t beat the system, he suggests, so join it—that is, get yourself a better lawyer than the other guy.

The absence of serious discussion about reform is predictable given the book’s nature. With cowriter Bill Thomas, Grutman has produced a highly readable work which features abundant name dropping, starring celebrities such as Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, and Henry Kissinger along with lesser known clients, opponents, and former partners. There is plenty in the way of gossip and anecdotes but almost no sustained legal or social analysis.

Neither its superficiality nor Grutman’s biases (as one would expect, he presents only his side of the case) prevent LAWYERS AND THIEVES from being profoundly disturbing. There is more than enough truth in Grutman’s charges to make us dream of social institutions which transcend the moral mystifications of laws, lawyers and law courts. Perhaps, in addition to making a few bucks in royalties, it was the author’s intent to foster such dreams.