The Street LawyerLarge Print - 1998
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THE STREET LAWYER (Dell publishing, $7.99) opens inside the elevator of swanky Washington, D.C. law firm Drake & Sweeney. The novel's protagonist (Michael Brock) is sharing the lift with a homeless person and has the typical urbanite response to such street urchins: He doesn't really look at him, but he smells him. Homelessness, Grisham drives home in this scene, is a faceless nuisance best ignored.
Unbeknownst to Michael, the homeless man has an axe to grind with the firm. He follows Michael into the law offices where he draws a gun on him and eight of the firm's bulldog litigators, and a hostage situation ensues:
Twenty-two pages later, the gunman is shot dead by a SWAT sniper. Michael, having been standing directly behind him at the time of impact, is covered in blood and pieces of bone and flesh. It's a harrowing experience for the young lawyer, and one that over the next few days evolves into an epiphany that changes his life.
Michael hits the pavement for answers. His search brings him to the 14th Street Legal Clinic, a bare knuckled law office that specializes in pro bono work for the disenfranchised. Their only requirement: You have to be homeless. Enter Mordecai Green.
Mordecai is chief counsel at the clinic, and a bulldog in his advocacy for the homeless Michael discusses the case with him, and after a bit of investigating learns the shooter had a beef with the law firm Michael is employed by. Whether from intrigue or the yearning to practice law that makes a real difference in people's lives or just plain old-fashioned WASP guilt - probably all three - Michael jumps ship. He becomes the 14th Street Legal Clinic's newest partner.
As the facts of the case come out, Mordecai sees a pattern of lawlessness he can't let alone. Though his clinic be small , he and Michael file suit which pits them against the well-heeled counselors of his former employer. David is taking on Goliath.
Grisham's background in law provides a fascinating look at the process of the American justice system. At times the reader wants to look away - there's a naive wish, I think, by everybody that the system is just. And, often it is, depending on one's perspective. In the end, justice is served in STREET LAWYER, but it takes a meandering, eye-opening course in arriving there. Grisham, at his best when he's writing about the counselors he's fought in the trenches with - whether they be hawks or doves - lands a solid punch with STREET LAWYER.
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