John Grisham: Advocating Change via Great Storytelling

I admit it. I’m a John Grisham fan. Ever since I read The Firm in 1991, I’ve read every one of his law-related novels, and I’ve relished reading all of them.

As a writer, I admire his highly readable writing style and the way his stories—filled with twists and turns–engage readers like me. As an erstwhile lawyer (like Grisham), I’m also in awe of his ability to skillfully weave legal issues into his stories.

Grisham’s latest, Rogue Lawyer, appeared last year, and I just finished reading it. What’s new in this novel is his protagonist, Sebastian Rudd, an extremely unconventional criminal defense lawyer who carries a gun and works out of a bulletproof van. Rudd, whose only friend is a burly paralegal/bodyguard, represents defendants other lawyers won’t. His encounters with a diverse group of atypical clients make up the gripping story lines that intersect in Rogue Lawyer.

What I found especially notable in this novel is Grisham’s focus on several significant issues that currently get some attention—but not nearly enough–in our current political and social climate.

Briefly summarized, here are some of the major issues Grisham highlights in Rogue Lawyer:

  • The corruption of our criminal justice system by some of the prosecutors, police officers, and judges who work within that system. Grisham focuses, for example, on what he sees as the rampant use of lies in court testimony by police and prosecutors. These lies, he makes clear, are aimed at convicting criminal defendants, fairly or not. Grisham unabashedly condemns the wrongful convictions that often result. As lawyer Rudd says at one point, “Getting a conviction is far more important [to these people] than justice.”
  • The use of phony “expert” witnesses in our courts. These witnesses are hired by lawyers to say what the lawyers want them to say. They “roam the country as hired guns testifying for fat fees.” Unfortunately, juries are usually impressed by these experts’ credentials and willing to take their testimony at face value, whether it‘s merited or not. Grisham writes that these experts brag about “their verdicts” (but rarely mention their “losses”).
  •  Human trafficking, which Grisham correctly calls “sexual slavery.” He points out, via one of his characters, that “[m]ost people in this country don’t believe there’s sex trafficking in their cities, but it’s there. It’s everywhere.” The traffickers “prey on runaways, homeless kids, girls from bad families looking for escape. It’s a sick business.” Fortunately, this issue is receiving increased attention. In San Francisco, a collaborative effort is taking aim at human trafficking, mounting an “awareness campaign” focused on reaching vulnerable teens.
  • The incarceration of one million “young black men now warehoused in decaying prisons, idling away the days at taxpayer expense,” the “unintended victims of tough laws passed by tough politicians over the past forty years,” mostly for nonviolent drug offenses. This is another issue that’s garnered more attention in the last few years, giving us some hope for change.

I commend John Grisham for shining light on these issues. His status as a best-selling author gives him a bully pulpit of sorts, a platform for raising the awareness of his readers. He told CBS News in October that he hopes Sebastian Rudd will reappear in more stories, exploring these and other issues he’s concerned about. He’d even like to see Rudd become the lead in a TV series whose episodes could touch on a wide range of important issues.

I hope that happens. And I hope that, via his storytelling, John Grisham’s focus on these kinds of issues has a broad impact on the public consciousness and leads to changes we sorely need.

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2 responses to “John Grisham: Advocating Change via Great Storytelling

  1. I’m glad to hear that he is highlighting these vital issues–thanks for pointing that out in this interesting post. The issue of wrongful convictions is very much in the headlines right now and on my mind personally… I’m horrified to hear about sloppy or even malevolent prosecutions, for instance, in the powerful documentary Making a Murderer on Netflix. Now I’m interested in Rogue Lawyer, too!

  2. christine davis

    Enjoyed reading your comments as always!

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