John Grisham’s Rogue Lawyer

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Having already read the prequel to Rogue Lawyer (352 pages released last October), namely the short story Partners on Kindle last month, I have now consumed Rogue Lawyer whilst riding on the plane to and from Atlanta to Istanbul and back again. As usual, they are both easy reads. But they are dealing with the complex subject of the relationship between ethics and legality. The Law is one thing, what is moral is another. Sometimes there are laws that by any reasonable or Biblical standards unethical. Sometimes ethics demands one act in illegal ways. What counts as civil disobedience is a recognition in general that the law should be respected but there are times when one’s conscience and commitment to ethics may require one to disobey the law, and then accept the legal consequences. But what if one is a lawyer, one who is supposed to live and die by the law. Does a lawyer have a right to go rogue in a good and moral cause? Clearly, in these stories, John Grisham suggest he does and should.

Sebastian Rudd is not a liked man. He defends what many would regard the indefensible– namely people that are often guilty of serious crimes. I agree with the principle that everyone is entitled to a defense, and to representation by a lawyer. I also believe in innocent until proven guilty, not trial by media and guilty by publicity. Most Americans seem not to understand or to believe in such principles these days. Why should someone ‘obviously’ guilty of some crime get a trial and fair representation, one may ask? What they did was unfair.

But wait a minute, how do we KNOW with certainty somebody did X,Y,Z? Do we ‘know’ because: 1) somebody generally trustworthy says so; or 2) because the new media reports they ‘allegedly; did it; or 3) we ‘think’ we saw them do something? Frankly, none of this is good enough. Most crimes do not involve credible eyewitnesses on the spot to report accurately the deed, and even surveillance footage can be ambiguous often enough. So yes, I believe in trial by jury or judge, not trial by popular opinion, and I believe in ‘innocent until proven guilt’ beyond a reasonable doubt. And by the way, this is the problem with electing people based on popular opinion. Sadly, the public is often ill informed and wrong. Which brings us back to Sebastian Rudd.

The man is despised, has lost his marriage due to his and his wife’s dedication to the law (and for other reasons), lives mostly out of his van and on the road, and has only one friend, his partner whom he rescued legally (in the Kindle short story prequel). The story in the full novel, is actually several stories about several cases which all feature Rudd.

In a sense, Rogue Lawyer is a series of shorter or longer stories tied together by the same central figure. There is not a single plot, or single cast of characters other than Rudd and Partner, and oh yes Rudd’s ex and his son Starcher. I enjoyed these stories, they are a quick summer read, though they are not Grisham at his riveting best. What they are however is a very helpful exploration of the boundaries of legal vs. ethical (and whose ethics, one may ask).