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A Michigan personal injury lawyer’s take on “The Litigators” by John Grisham

December 2, 2011 by Steven M. Gursten

How the book portrays personal injury lawyers and why the problem of attorney solicitation of accident victims is getting worse

I just finished reading the latest John Grisham book, “The Litigators.” Spoiler alert: if you intend to read this book, you may not want to continue reading this blog. Let’s just say that Grisham is very tough on personal injury lawyers.

As I read the book, I kept wondering whether lawyer advertising and solicitation is more offensive in other parts of the country than here in Michigan. There are depictions of lawyers going into funeral homes and impersonating doctors in hospitals to actually hustle clients. It’s a world where personal injury lawyers have law offices next to busy intersections with lots of car accidents, and run out of offices whenever they hear ambulance sirens. They even have a dog that is trained to start barking whenever the dog hears a siren. Ouch!

There are redeeming parts of the book – parts that I hope people reading the book remember. There is the young personal injury lawyer paying money out of his own pocket to help his clients, and taking cases for illegal aliens that no one else will, and getting threatened by the lawsuit. At the end of the day, you have a lawyer who is going to take bad toys off the market to protect the public.

As Grisham writes: they’re real people with real problems who need help. That’s the beauty of [personal injury law]- you met the clients face-to-face, you get to know them, and, if things work out, you get to help them.”

There is a lot of honor to this. As Grisham notes with the young lawyer, there is far more honor in making a difference in real people’s lives then there is in doing arcane legal maneuverings for giant corporations.

It reminded me of the conversation I had with my own dad when I came back home to Michigan to work here. My dad had only one precondition for me. He said to me, “you have to like people and want to help them. ”

I’ve never forgotten that. Seems like Grisham knows this too.

But those who hate attorneys and believe that personal injury lawyers are the root of all that is wrong in the world will read this book and find lots of evidence that they think will support their worldview of the bozo injury lawyers who are committing moral crimes and who have huge personal problems.

Or you can look at this book and see shades of Atticus Finch – the young idealistic lawyer who is fighting for justice for his clients.

Ultimately, “The Litigators” has a balance: it contains elements that represent the very best of my profession today and also the very worst.

As to Grisham’s depiction of the mass tort lawyers, it is hard for me to agree or disagree. I’ve never handled mass torts, since my practice is 100 percent dedicated to helping people who have been injured in car accidents, truck accidents, and motorcycle accidents. But that being said, I have seen the boats and planes and the second and third wives of many of these mass tort lawyers, and it seems hard to disagree with some of what he writes – especially when it comes to the mass tort lawyers who seem to “game the system” by enjoying huge legal fees, but whose clients get nothing – literally pennies.

Even that view is probably too harsh because it ignores the enormous societal protections that result in the future for the public good, and the deterrent effect that mass torts has on many corporations from engaging in activities that hurt us, the public, if they really knew they could get away with it. I strongly recommend an excellent documentary that came out a couple years ago, The Corporation, as to this last point.

The hardest thing for me was reading the extreme way that Grisham portrayed personal injury lawyers who help people injured in car accidents. He is very hard on the automobile accident personal injury lawyers.

Now, here’s the rub…

Michigan’s growing problem of lawyer solicitation after car accidents

Michigan as a state does not have nearly the moral excesses that appear in the book – and that sadly I fear may be occurring in some other states today. But Michigan does have a major problem that I’ve written about before – and that is the “accident victim” solicitation companies. These Michigan “Accident Services” type companies are comprised of chiropractors or just “entrepreneurs” who are aggressively calling and soliciting people who have been injured in car accidents – and who then refer these people to personal injury lawyers who are in on it.

The catch is these Michigan personal injury lawyers are using these front organizations as ways to skirt all the ethical rules on attorney solicitation of accident victims. After all, a chiropractor doesn’t have to comply with attorney solicitation rules, nor does an “entrepreneur” who is financing one of these “victim services” companies.

As best I can tell, these types of groups (started years ago in Texas) have now brought their unethical practices to Michigan. There are now entire Michigan personal injury law firms that are engaged in the practice. That needs to be stopped – both for the sake of protecting the public and protecting the image of the legal profession.

It may be too late to convince John Grisham, but there are probably more personal injury lawyers who got into this business because they care about people.

Here’s an open letter I wrote to the attorney grievance commission addressing this problem of unethical lawyer solicitation.

In the meantime, it is hard to get angry at John Grisham for writing The Litigators. For one, he is just a very good writer and it’s a good read. For another, he has in many of his books that I’ve read and liked, books such as The Rainmaker, shown the very noblest aspect of the legal profession today.

To quote Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird: “There is one way in this country in which all men are created equal – there is one human institution that make a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller (or an Allstate, State Farm, or AIG). That institution, gentlemen, is the court.”

Steve Gursten is one of the nation’s top personal injury lawyers. He is head of Michigan Auto Law and president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association. Steve has received the highest verdict in the state for a car accident or truck accident victim in 2008, 2009 and 2010, according to Michigan Lawyers Weekly. Steve frequently blogs about consumer safety and is available for comment.

Related information to protect yourself:

Michigan Supreme Court backs down on attorney solicitation of accident victims

Finding the best injury attorney in Michigan

Let’s stop predatory auto insurance company solicitation of car accident victims

Michigan Auto Law is the largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights to better serve you. Call (248) 353-7575 for a free consultation with one of our Michigan personal injury lawyers.

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