How would you feel if you had to work a hundred hours a week at a job you hated for a boss you despised because your father had pressured you into it? What if that job were bringing in three hundred thousand dollars a year with the promise of more if you kept up the pace to become a full partner in the law firm? What would you do?
The Litigators is the story of Chicago corporate lawyer David Zinc’s breakdown and escape from his high-pressure law firm. He snaps one morning as he’s about to take the escalator up to his office. When he can’t force himself to get on, he sits on a bench to try to figure out why he suddenly feels like he is having a heart attack. Five years of his deadly dull and meaningless work with colleagues he couldn’t stand, have made him physically ill.
David finally makes it to an elevator going up to his office on the ninety-third floor, watching others get off on the way up. He was sweating and hyperventilating by time his floor approached. When he arrived, his colleagues urged him out of the elevator, but his head was spinning and he fled back into it before it started down.
He sat down in the corner of the elevator and other riders were a bit freaked out to see him there. When he finally got to the ground floor, he felt better because he’d had the guts to leave and the pressure was off. He thought about what the important people in his life might think, and then he became afraid his boss might send security after him. He decided to flee the building as quickly as he could, though he had no idea where to go.
He finally ducks into a bar he sees and begins to drink to get drunk (though he has never done so before.) When his secretary calls to ask where he is, he brushes her off. When his wife calls to say the office had called twice trying to find him, he doesn’t answer. He spends most of the day in the bar with Abner the bartender.
Before the author introduced us to David, he first introduced us to the shady “boutique” law firm of Finley and Figg and the two partners, Oscar Finley and Wally Figg. Their specialty was personal injury cases, and they never let ethics get in the way when they were trying to recruit or sign up clients.
We also meet their secretary, Rochelle Gibson, who had no qualifications except she’d been a client whose case had been butchered and she had threatened to sue the partners. She hung around the office so much that the three got used to each other, and she was there when the real secretary quit. Since the phones were still ringing and the partners were busy yelling at each other, Rochelle just started answering and was soon the new secretary, peacekeeper, and real manager.
Back to David, who at almost five o’clock is passed out at the bar. Abner wakes him up, tells him it’s time to leave and go home, and puts him in a cab. But David doesn’t want to go home and face his wife. He sees an ad on the side of a bus for Finley and Figg and tells the cab driver that’s where he wants to go.
Shortly after that a disheveled David Zinc walks into the office of Finley and Figg and says he loves the place and want to work there. When asked why he left his corporate job he says, “let’s just say I hate the work, hate the people I work with, and hate the clients.”
Rochelle comments he should fit right in at Finley and Figg, and over Oscars objections, they let him stay to see how things will work out. Around eight Wally calls Helen Zinc to come get David, and Helen proves to be fairly understanding — at least enough to wait until he sobers up before they really talk.
I love the way Grisham brings the most unlikely people together. David had a Harvard education and impeccable law credentials and had been on the path to a partnership in the large firm of Rogan Rothberg. Finley and Figg was a two bit ambulance chasing firm. Finley and Figg had felt no need or desire to add another lawyer, but David makes an offer to work at a price they could afford, on a trial basis.
David joined the firm just before Finley and Figg were on the verge of what Figg considered their ticket to wealth — a class action suit against a large pharmaceutical company. David becomes the ethical voice of reason in the firm who gets stuck with the dirty work and and gets paid little for it. It is watching these unlikely characters interact so that each meets his own goals that makes this book so much fun to read.
I won’t tell you any more. I found the ending very satisfying and consistent with what we might expect of the characters as Grisham portrayed them, and you, too, will know them well before you are far into the book.
David is called upon to use all his education and experience his new position, and his character and the genuine concern he has for his clients give the book heart. As he saves himself, his presence is a catalyst in saving Figg, Finley, and Rochelle. As in most of Grisham’s books, we see plenty of courtroom drama, and a bit of humor. I highly recommend the book.