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Should Judge go to Prison for Perjury? February 26, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Social/Political Commentary.
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Does this man deserve to go to prison?

Does this man deserve to go to prison?

I’ve been struggling with this one.

Judge guilty of perjury

Former Australian Federal Court Judge, Marcus Einfeld, is currently in a sentencing hearing regarding perjury charges.  On 8 January 2006, Einfeld’s car was caught on a speed camera.  It’s an offence that attracts a meager AU$77 fine and a few demerit points (leaving him with just one point left).  Big deal.  But inexplicably, Einfeld gave a statement to police that another person, an American academic by the name of Dr Teresa Brennan, was the one behind the wheel.  The thing is, Dr Brennan died three years ago.  The truth was discovered and caused a media storm.  What started off as really a trivial offence has turned into guilty pleas for perjury and perversion of the course of justice, leading to potential jail time for Einfeld.

The question is, does he deserve to go? 

Arguments For Prison

First and foremost, the crimes of perjury and perverting the course of justice usually attract a full-time custodial sentence.  If other people who commit the same crime have to go to prison, then why not Einfeld?  If anything, it could be said that Einfeld’s situation was much worse because he is a person familiar with the law after having practiced for many years at the bar, and knew exactly what he was doing.  [It’s actually quite devious because by blaming it on a person in an outside jurisdiction, he avoids the fine and demerit points and no one else gets it.]

As the prosecution put it: “He was a person who actually sat in judgment on other persons who had committed a similar, analogous offence and sentenced people to prison for their criminality.”  In 2001, in a judgment Einfeld delivered, he called perjury a crime that was “at best arrogant, and at worst a complete rejection of law and order”.  So how can a person who sent people to jail for perjury now ask the Court to not send him to jail for the same crime?

Further, according to the prosecution, when Einfeld attended court to contest the driving offence, his lawyer purposely referred to him as “Justice” Einfeld, even though he wasn’t a judge anymore.  The object of this, they claim, was to impress the magistrate using his former judicial position.  He also used the media to profess his innocence, hiring a public relations officer and issuing a statement from his chambers which was untrue.  Moreover, he only pleaded guilty to the charges a few days before the start of the trial, suggesting a possible lack of contrition.

Another thing that came to light was the fact that Einfeld still received over AU$200,000 a year in pension payments for being a former judge.  Since the perjury revelations, Einfeld has also been accused of various other things which discredit his character, such as padding his CV, purchasing doctorates from US diploma mills and plagiarism.

Arguments Against Prison

Einfeld’s defence said there should be “flexibility” in deciding whether or not to send the former judge to jail.  They put forward a string of mitigating circumstances and reasons why he should be spared a prison sentence, including:

  • he has been serving the community for the majority of his working life as a judge;
  • he has done substantial good in the community, including: serving as Austcare embassador for refugees and UNICEF embassador for children, being awarded the UN Association of Australia Founders’ Award for contribution to justice and human rights, and has been a spokesperson for Jewish and Israeli causes (including positions in various Jewish organisations) and other minority groups;
  • he has already suffered through the intense media scrutiny and his reputation has been completely ruined;
  • he has been struck off the roll of legal practitioners and there are intentions to strip him of his Order of Australia;
  • as suggested by a psychiatrist, he is suffering from depression and is embarrassed about his loss of control over his bladder and bowel, and a custodial sentence could worsen the situation, including the potential for suicide; and
  • he is suffering from prostate cancer.

Einfeld’s attorney claims that: “Mr Einfeld has done more for his fellow man than anyone I know or have ever met.”  He asks the court to consider the crime against the good he had done his entire life.

Thoughts

Putting aside the legal arguments (which I am not entirely across), does Einfeld deserve to go to prison from a moral perspective?  Should he go to jail as a matter of justice?

In the beginning, I was all for Einfeld going to prison.  A man who supposedly dedicated his life to justice ought to be punished for the way he blatantly disregarded the law, knowing perfectly well that what he was committing was a very serious crime that could lead to jail time.  His actions stunk of arrogance, thinking that it would be easy to get off by pushing the offence onto someone who wasn’t in the country (and dead).  His former life as a judge only aggravates the crime.

So what if his life is ruined by media scrutiny?  He wouldn’t be the first, and in this case, it was completely his own doing.  So what if he suffers from depression?  50% of inmates in the prison system suffer from some form of mental illness, and depression is no doubt high on the list.  Furthermore, it’s not like he would be blocked from health care in prison, which still provides health services to sick inmates.

But on the other hand, you see a man who has, no doubt, done a lot of good in his life.  Various groups, including Palestinians, Soviet Jews, Solomon Islanders and Australia’s Aborigines testified as to the things Einfeld did to make their lives better.  Moreover, he would not be the first to lie about a traffic camera offence.  Hundreds of people do it every year, shifting the demerit points to their partners, parents, children, siblings and friends.  They see it as no big deal, and the vast majority simply get away with it without fuss.  It doesn’t make what he did right, but perhaps he was just unlucky (and stupid for picking a dead person) – because if it were any other ordinary person, nothing might have happened.  Furthermore, his actions don’t harm anyone but himself – unless you consider undermining public confidence in the justice system a harm!

So what do you think?  Should Einfeld go to prison for perjury?  Should his former role as a judge mean a more lenient sentence, or does it justify a harsher one?

[Update: the hearing has been adjorned to 20 March 2009, by which time Justice James should have a decision on Einfeld’s sentencing.  There was a particularly damaging opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald written by Paul Sheehan that was singled out by Einfeld’s lawyers.  Read it, I think you will understand why.  It was described as a “nasty, vicious stunt”.  Some of it was probably unnecessary (for example, his apparent leniency towards immigrants), but it did reveal some more (of what I hope are) truths about the former judge (especially his past efforts to avoid traffic fines).]

Recapping the Pacers’ “Make or Break” Run February 26, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Basketball, Indiana Pacers, NBA.
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Will Coach O'Brien be blamed for another year where the Pacers miss the playoffs?

Will Coach O'Brien be blamed for another year where the Pacers miss the playoffs?

A while back, after the Indiana Pacers defeated the Houston Rockets on January 23, their record was an unimpressive 16-27, good for second last in the Eastern Conference.

However, I noted that the team was about to embark on a “make or break” stretch of the season, where 13 out of their next 17 games were against sub-0.500 teams (at least at the time) and 10 of those games were at home.  If the Pacers were going to have any chance of making the playoffs, this was the time for them to make a run for the top 8.

The Aftermath

So how have they done?  Well, it was, as the Pacers have been all season, mediocre.  For the softest patch of the season schedule, the Pacers went 9-8, boosting their record to 25-35, 12th in the East and 3 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the final playoff spot.

I said back then that, given the Pacers’ record at the time, 10-7 would be considered a moderate success.  Not unexpectedly, they fell just short. 

However, if you look at the actual games during the stretch, you may be surprised by where the wins and losses came from.  They managed to get 3 wins against Miami, Orlando and Cleveland, the teams they were supposed to lose to, and lost completely winnable games against New York (twice), Minnesota, Washington, Milwaukee (without Redd and Bogut) and Charlotte.  They also went 8-2 at home and 1-6 on the road.

During this stretch, All-Star Weekend flew by, the trade deadline passed and went without any deals (ie Tinsley), Danny Granger hurt his foot (out 3 weeks), and Mike Dunleavy declared his season over with the same injury that’s sidelined him for most of the season.

What now?

With just 22 games left, it’s not looking good for the Pacers.  According to Hollinger’s Playoff Odds, Indiana still has a 14.9% chance of making the playoffs, down from 23.4% before the start of the dream 17-game stretch.  But to do so, they need to go something like 14-8, which would be miraculous if they managed to even come close.  This would be the case even if they had Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy and no injuries to anyone else.

So, to summarise the “make of break” stretch of the season: They didn’t make much progress in the standings.  Their two top scorers Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy are out with injuries, the latter indefinitely.  They are about to enter a tough stretch where the next 10 games include teams such as Boston, Denver, Portland (x2), Utah, Atlanta and Dallas.  To top things off, they still have Jamaal Tinsley.  Another forgettable year for the Indiana Pacers.  Time to look forward to next season.  The only problem now is that they are winning some games, which won’t get them in the playoffs but will, once again, put them in a position to miss out on the top picks in next season’s draft.  Oh, and they still have to get rid of Jamaal Tinsley.

Novel update… February 25, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing.
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It’s been a while since the last update on my fantasy novel.

Things had been going kind of slow as of late as I stunned myself into the realisation that I was more than halfway through my masters degree and there was only 3 months to go before final exams!  The exams are kind of on a collision course with the timetable I have set for myself to finish the first draft of the novel.  Not good.

Plus there’s been the NBA All-Star game, the trade deadline, AND the Oscars (including the ambitious goal to watch most of the nominees I could possibly get to, which I’m both surprised and frightened to say I achieved).  To say I’ve been a little distracted would be an understatement.

Nevertheless, I’ve been plodding along quietly, doing anything from 300 to 1,500 words a day (mostly in the lower region) while trying to shift the focus to my studies.  I finally decided to check the word count today, and I was somewhat shocked to see that it is now 77,000+ words.  I’d say in terms of the plot, I should be about a quarter of the way through.  Sadly though, in terms of the number of things I want the protagonist to do and the places I want him to go, I’m probably only about one-sixth through, if that.  Maybe that just means things will get a lot more exciting soon.

I had been stuck in a lull, feeling like things were moving along but not going anywhere.  It was kind of like my protagonists, who were trapped with the antagonist in a place filled with blood-sucking, skin-colour-changing, mutated/evolved elves.  Today, I finally managed to get them out of that dreaded place.  They escaped – sweaty, muddied and bleeding – at last.  Now hopefully, so can I – and get a move on with the story.

Another thing that has struck me is that I need to put more effort into distinguishing my characters.  Give them more obvious traits.  I want to keep them 3-dimensional but there’s a danger that they might end up bland and without distinctiveness.  That last thing I would want is for them all to seem the same.  The thing is, I’m not 100% sure what their personalities are like yet because I haven’t known them for all that long.  Perhaps that’s something I should worry about in the second draft.

Thoughts on the Oscars: Winners, Losers and everything else February 23, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment.
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oscar1The 81st Academy Awards ceremony finally took place last night.  Here are just some of my thoughts on it.

The Ceremony

It was…surprisingly not that much different to previous years despite all the talk of a toned-down version due to the global financial meltdown (though Hugh Jackman did make a joke about it).  A few subtle differences in the presentation and sets, but most of it still involved ascertaining who was with who and who was wearing who and what; a musical medley and some jokes to kick things off; predictable winners and long, emotional acceptance speeches.  Hollywood pats its back for another year well done.

That being said, I still enjoyed it.  It’s not often that you get to see all the biggest stars in one place, and see them not as their characters but for who they really are.  Sometimes, through their reactions (to winning and losing) and their acceptance speeches, you get to see a side of them you don’t normally see.  I think this year’s was one of the best we’ve had in a while.

The Host

A big reason was the host.  Hugh Jackman did an excellent job.  It sounded like a strange choice at the beginning, but he really showed off his multiple talents, from singing and dancing to joking and hosting.  He seemed reasonably relaxed given the occasion and gave it his all.  However, if you’re used to seeing him as Wolverine, he might look a little awkward doing all these things you’re not used to seeing.  His job was to host and he did that by not being too dominant and leaving most of the attention to the nominees and winners.  He was classy, and that’s important to the Oscars.

The opening number was awesome.  I’m not sure if anyone can ever top the Billy Crystal classics, but Jackman’s might be the closest we’ll ever get.

[NB: Not sure how long this will last before they take it down]

The Highlights

As usual, they had some clips in between.  Most were pretty standard, but they did have clips on genres, such as romance and comedy.  I thought the highlight of the night, apart from Jackman’s number (above), was the comedy clip presented by Pineapple Express, with Seth Rogen and James Franco.  Man, Seth Rogen has lost a lot of weight, probably in preparation for his Green Hornet role.  And James Franco was just sensational.  I really thought he should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor rather instead of Robert Downey Jr for Tropic Thunder.  Check it out soon.

[NB: Poor quality and might get taken down soon, but it’s the best I can get]

Apart from that, there was a little song and dance number with Hugh and Beyonce and the leads of High School Musical and Mamma Mia!  Personally it didn’t do much for me but there wasn’t really anything wrong with it.

The Winners and Losers

Despite reading everywhere that there were going to be some ‘surprises’ this year at the Oscars, when it came to predicting the winners, there weren’t many surprises at all, especially in the major categories.  As expected, Slumdog Millionaire absolutely dominated, winning 8 of its 10 nominations including Best Picture and Best Director for Danny Boyle.  Also expected was the disappointment for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which, despite leading with 13 nominations, came away with just 3 wins.

Below is the total list of winners and how they compared with my predictions (and some thoughts). 

Best Picture

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

My Pick: Slumdog Millionaire

Thoughts: A foregone conclusion by the time the last award of the night rolled around.  I don’t think there was one person in the audience that expected anyone else.  This just about completes a sweep of all the major awards for Slumdog Millionaire this year.  Was it deserving?  Probably yes.  Were there better films?  Absolutely.

Best Director

Winner: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)

My Pick: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)

Thoughts: Another one that was well in the bag even before the ceremony began.  Boyle’s acceptance speech was okay, nothing special.

Best Actor

Winner: Sean Penn (Milk)

My Pick: Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)

Thoughts: I thought based on merit, Penn and Rourke were neck and neck.  But I felt Rourke would take it out because Penn won not that long ago for Mystic River, and he’s the type of actor that will continue to be nominated as long as he’s acting.  Rourke on the other hand, was one of those heart-warming, comeback stories.  His character’s journey was very similar to that of his own.  I thought that may have struck a chord with the voters, but apparently not.  I think Penn won because: (1) he was truly brilliant and deserving; (2) the Academy likes portrayals of real people (especially in the last few years: Ray, Capote, The Last King of Scotland); and (3) Mickey Rourke must have really pissed off a lot of people.  Penn’s acceptance speech was gracious and genuine.  Some have criticised him for the slightly controversial comments about equal rights for homosexuals (eg marriage), but he probably would have been criticised too had he not said it.

Best Actress

Winner: Kate Winslet (The Reader)

My Pick: Kate Winslet (The Reader)

Thoughts: It was Kate’s time, and I was so glad to see her win after so many disappointments.  Some may say she was probably better in Revolutionary Road, but I don’t think she cares.  Congratulations!

Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)

My Pick: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)

Thoughts: Since everyone expected this, it didn’t turn out to be the emotional affair one may have pictured a few months ago around the time the nominations were announced.  The acceptance speech given by Heath’s father and sister was relatively subdued.  Still, a great achievement, and his performance as The Joker will go down in history as one of the greatest.

Best Suporting Actress

Winner: Penelope Cruz (Vicki Cristina Barcelona)

My Pick: Penelope Cruz (Vicki Cristina Barcelona)

Thoughts: This category is usually seen as the most wide open, but as usual, the favourite prevailed.  While I thought she was good in the role, I didn’t feel it was worthy of the win, especially againt the other nominees in the group.  Personally I would have preferred Amy Adams or Taraji P Henson.

Best Original Screenplay

Winner: Milk

My Pick: In Bruges

Thoughts: Milk was the favourite but I expected an upset here with In Bruges, which had some early momentum that was quickly lost.  Should have known better than to best against the favourites.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

My Pick: Slumdog Millionaire

Thoughts: When one film has the momentum at the Oscars, they tend to sweep all the awards, irrespective of whether it was truly deserving.  In this case I think you could make a strong case for the winner, but I felt it was pretty borderline.  Any of the other nominees would have been worthy winners.

Cinematography

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

My Pick: Slumdog Millionaire

Thoughts: Another one that goes with being the most popular film at the Oscars.

Editing

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

My Pick: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Thoughts: I should have gone with the favourite, but I thought maybe the voters had a kittle sympathy for Button because it was sure to be pummeled by Slumdog in all the categories where both films were nominated.  I was wrong.

Art Direction

Winner: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

My Pick: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Thoughts: As I said, if Slumdog wasn’t nominated, and Button was, then Button would win.  I was right this time.

Costume Design

Winner: The Duchess

My Pick: The Duchess

Thoughts: The heavy favourite.  The film wasn’t known for much else.

Makeup

Winner: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

My Pick: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Thoughts: Well deserved win here.  The makeup was truly amazing.  Also because Slumdog wasn’t nominated, or else it might have been in trouble.

Visual Effects

Winner: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

My Pick: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Thoughts: Definitely a well-deserved win.  The most amazing special effects I’ve seen, probably ever!

Original Score

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

My Pick: Slumdog Millionaire

Thoughts: Would have been good to see another winner here, but Slumdog was like a tornado this year, sweeping everything in its path.  I wonder whether the voters really paid attention to the particular category or whether they just went with the flow and voted everything Slumdog.

Original Song

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

My Pick: Slumdog Millionaire

Thoughts: With 2 songs compared to WALL-E‘s one, this isn’t a surprise.  It’s the nominations that puzzled me.  I didn’t even know Slumdog had 2 songs, and I’m sure there are loads and loads of songs out there that could and should have been nominated.  I personally thought the theme song in Gran Torino (by Clint Eastwood) was awesome and at least deserved a nomination if not a win.

Sound

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

My Pick: Slumdog Millionaire

Thoughts: Typical.

Sound Editing

Winner: The Dark Knight

My Pick: The Dark Knight

Thoughts: Very gald they got this one right because it was deserving.  And good to see one that Slumdog didn’t bag.

Animated Feature Film

Winner: WALL-E

My Pick: WALL-E

Thoughts: Possibly the most obvious choice of them all except for all of Slumdog’s wins.  Many thought WALL-E was a masterpiece and should have been in the Best Picture category.  I disagree, but it was certainly better than Kung Fu Panda.

Other winners

Best Foreign Language Film: Okuribito (Japan)

Best Feature Documentary: Man On Wire

Best Short Documentary: Smile Pinki

Best Short Animated Film: La Maison en petits cubes

Best Short Live Action Film: Spielzeugland

Thoughts: I did a prediction for these when the nominations were first announced, but they were just guesses because I hadn’t (and still haven’t) seen any of them, so I don’t think it’s entirely fair to make predictions on that basis.  Nevertheless, I managed to get Man On Wire (because I had heard of it) and Spielzeugland (because it sounded cool) correct.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My official predictions (which didn’t include documentaries, short films, foreign film, etc) did pretty well.  I came away with 16 correct guesses out of 19 categories.  If you include the other categories which I pretty much randomly guessed at the start, I got 18 out of 24.  The frightening thing is that it would not have been that hard to guess ALL of them, and I’m sure plenty of people did.  Just shows how predictable everything still is. 

Maybe a change in the voting system wouldn’t be such a bad idea?  It gets a bit boring when we all know who will win and it’s all driven by publicity and promotion rather than purely on merit.  But then again Meryl Streep might win every year and that would make it even more boring.

Book Review: John Grisham’s “The Associate” February 21, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews.
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John Grisham's new "legal thriller"

John Grisham's new "legal thriller"

John Grisham’s latest legal thriller “The Associate” tells the story of young hotshot law student, Kyle McAvoy, who is blackmailed by a clandestine organisation to infiltrate the biggest law firm in the world, Scully & Pershing, to steal some highly confidential information involved in a multi-billion dollar law suit. 

Sounds like a ripper, right?  That’s what I thought when I rushed out to buy the book.  However, I was left disappointed.  Deeply disappointed.  Allow me to explain.

How I found out about the book

“The Associate” was first brought to my attention via an article emailed to me by my best mate, a fellow lawyer who’s slaving away in Biglaw (the colloquial term for big, multinational, nasty law firms) in New York.  In the article, Grisham plugs his new novel, which he claims is very critical of life in Biglaw.  Grisham has no sympathy for young people who sign their lives away to such firms, working around the clock under immense pressure, often leaving their partners, families and morals at the door.  These people know exactly what they’re getting themselves into, Grisham says.  There are plenty of websites and blogs out there that detail the plethora of horror stories at Biglaw.  He’s proud of his currently unemployed son who turned down lucrative Biglaw offers to find work that will help real people.  Grisham even hired a research assistant to spend a year in Biglaw to find out what life is really like under the promise of anonymity – which led to interesting results.

As someone who struggled through 3 years at a big law firm himself (and may return to it), you can understand how I would have been intrigued by “The Associate”.  After all, everything the book seemed to be about connected with me.  I had seen plenty of movies adapted from Grisham’s novels, but I had only read his non-fiction work “The Innocent Man”, which I felt was pretty good.  I’m working on my first novel myself and Grisham’s sold over 250 million books worldwide, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity for me to learn from the master.

How was it?

And so I went and bought the book and jumped right in.  I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot (any more than the first sentence of this post), but what I will say is that the novel was surprisingly flat.  You find out right at the start about the blackmail and what it was about.  You spend the rest of the book following the young protagonist as he deals with the demands of work, his blackmailers, his father and friends.  You keep expecting something exciting to happen.  Things will pick up any second now and it’ll turn into a real page-turner, you tell yourself.  Brace yourself for unexpected plot twists.  Expectations, expectations, expectations.  But before I knew it, the book was finished.  None of the expectations were fulfilled.

Huh?  That was it?

I flipped the pages again just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  I couldn’t believe it.  I had finished reading the novel…and nothing happened.  The entire book was a build up towards nothing.  There wasn’t really a climax.  A few things happened here and there, but there was no big climatic finish, no dramatic twist – just a stern message to stay away from Biglaw.  And that was it.

As I said, I had never read Grisham’s fiction novels before, so there is nothing I can compare it to.  The guy is a good story-teller rather than a good writer.  He tells you what happens more often than he shows you.  He shoots the narrative at you.  It’s almost like reading a report at times.  A good report, but a report nonetheless.  Leaving aside how ridiculous and improbable the plot is (which I don’t generally have a problem with), I can only assume that “The Associate” was an anomaly.  Surely he could not have sold 250 million copies with this type of novel. 

Maybe I should read more of Grisham’s earlier works.  Any suggestions?

Depiction of Biglaw culture

As expected, “The Associate” was extremely critical of life in Biglaw.  I just didn’t expect the novel to be more of a critique of Biglaw life than a legal thriller.  Grisham squeezed in all the “unbelievable but true” stories, painting the most negative picture possible of Biglaw life, including (off the top of my head):

  • working ridiculous hours on end (eg 100 hour weeks), no sleep for days, sleeping under the desk, ridiculous stress, collapsing from exhaustion
  • partners from hell that demand the associate’s every waking hour, torture associates by making them to stay up all night doing pointless work, make up their time sheets and sleep with their secretaries and subordinates
  • inter-office sex and drug scandals
  • the absurdity of billing at 6 minute intervals
  • overbilling clients with outrageous charge-out rates, charging hundreds/thousands of dollars for mundane work like photocopying, charging clients for expensive lunches/dinners unrelated to work
  • having to defend immoral clients that make the world a worse place
  • how the big law firms suck in promising talent with shining promises then turn them into slaves
  • how most new associates leave or burn out within the first few years

The list goes on and on, but you get the point.

As a former (and possibly returning) lawyer in a big law firm, I had heard of all the horror stories, and even experienced quite a few myself.  Working until at least 3am for four consecutive Friday nights was one.  Developing a stress-induced skin condition was another.  A classic was a partner who billed over 430 hours in a single month – while pregnant (that’s over 14 hours a day even if you work every single day of a 30-day month).

However, as told through “The Associate”, I didn’t find it effective or compelling.  Perhaps it was Grisham’s overly preachy tone.  He rams it down your throat without subtlety.  Biglaw is big, bad and evil, and that was that.  Everything was black and white.  Good lawyers help needy people; greedy lawyers and stupid lawyers go to Biglaw.  Or maybe it was the way in which he wrote it, report-like and lacking in true, heart-felt emotion.  Yeah, we know Kyle hated his job, but the lack of underlying emotion and detail made it difficult to put yourself in his shoes.  We know he was feeling dreadful but we don’t feel his dread.

Strangely, despite agreeing with all the negative things about Biglaw, I found myself wanting to defend it while reading “The Associate”.  I wanted to tell Grisham that it’s not ALL bad.  You get to work with insanely clever people, good people with a wealth of knowledge and experience, people who’ve made a positive difference to the world in varying ways; make great friends who stick with you through tough times; and occasionally, you might even do some work you find interesting and rewarding. 

Just because Grisham’s heard and read about all the bad things in Biglaw (and I’ve experienced much of it) doesn’t mean it’s an unworthy or stupid career path.  While I don’t think I’m personally cut out for it, it doesn’t mean that other people aren’t.  I’ve met lawyers who are genuinely in love with their jobs, don’t mind working the hours, get pumped at the challenge of complex transactions and difficult clients, have a true passion for the law.  These people are made for Biglaw.  I’m not one of them, but they exist.  I dislike Biglaw, but other’s don’t have to.  I just think it’s a disservice to the profession and an unfair portrayal of Biglaw and its lawyers.

I would be interested to hear how people who aren’t in law perceived the story, whether they found it fascinating or if they had a similar view.

Alcoholism

“The Associate” also contained a story arc dealing with alcoholism.  I don’t want to go into this too much, but it was a little strange.  It fits into the overall story but I couldn’t figure out why it was there or whether it made the story any better.  It was pretty stock-standard stuff, and like Grisham’s depiction of Biglaw, it was also too preachy for my liking.

[Update: this arc may have been based on a true story about a college student who got drunk and did some bad things (similar to the novel); he then went into AA and one of his steps was to apologise to people he had wronged, which he did, but it led to him being arrested and charged.  I won’t say what it was for because that would reveal too much plot.]

The movie adaptation

Shia Lebouf will be Kyle McAvoy

Shia Lebouf will be Kyle McAvoy

Apparently, Shia Lebouf (of Transformers, Disturbia and Indiana Jones 4 fame) has already been signed to play Kyle McAvoy in the movie adaptation of “The Associate.”  I must say, I can see him in that role.  He doesn’t strike me as a particularly clever guy, but I can definitely see him playing a young lawyer with street smarts.  Much of the dialogue almost seemed like it was written with him in mind – dry, scarcastic and sharp.  I think he’ll do a credible job.

However, a movie version of “The Associate” needs a lot of work.  I can already see them changing a lot of the plot in order to make things more intruiging and exciting.  If the story simply runs like the novel, it will be an incredibly boring movie to watch.

The verdict

My first Grisham fiction novel was ultimately a big disappointment.  The story had potential, as did the characters, but for some strange reason, the book never took off like I expected it too.  It started well but rolled on lethargically until a lazy finish.  Fans of Grisham will no doubt lap this up, but unless they see something I don’t, they are likely to be disappointed.  “The Associate” plays out more like a fable preaching against Biglaw than the “vintage Grisham” legal thriller it claims to be.  2 out of 5 stars.

NB: Yay!  My blog’s first book review!

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