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Literature / The Street Lawyer

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The Street Lawyer is a 1998 legal thriller novel by John Grisham.

Michael Brock was a lawyer climbing the ranks of Drake & Sweeney, a giant D.C. law firm with eight hundred lawyers. With tons of money and a partnership in just three years, he is on the fast track to a wealthy life with no time to waste, and no mind for any of the beggars on the street asking for even just a few coins...

That is until a homeless man named Mister decide to attack the firm and hold Michael and some other lawyers hostage. Michael survived, and his assailant did not. But with the mystery of this violent beggar nagging on his mind, Michael end up digging a little to deep. He found a dirty little secret tucked away in Drake & Sweeney.


From there, everything collapsed. His carrier. His finance. Michael went from the big top to the streets. From a firm lawyer to a street lawyer, an advocate for the homeless. And from a rich white man to a thief with a file that could shake the whole legal system to its core.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Affectionate Nickname: Many people close to Michael will call him Mike. Though, some of their relationships with Michael might not be that stable, and only be because of how long they spent time with him.
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • The reason that Ruby disappeared from the motel she was staying. Both Michael and Megan suspect that Ruby had returned to using drugs due to her addiction. However, after Ruby sudden returned to Michael's office, Michael noted that (as far as he can determine) Ruby didn't have any visible signs of using any crack. And Ruby still continued with her rehabilitation. In the end, Michael decided that it was better to not question Ruby on her reasons for her disappearance.
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    • Both Michael and Claire understood why they are finally divorcing. Besides the fact that their relationship has become stale from both sides being busy with work, Claire doesn't want to be dragged down financially because of Michael's decision to quit working in D&S and work as a street lawyer. However, when Michael called Claire at one point, he is surprised to find an unknown man answering the phone before it was given to Claire. Michael suspects Claire may have been secretly seeing someone all this time, to give her the love that he failed to show her due to his work. But Michael decided not to investigate further, since that wasn't why they divorced in the first place and, since they are both divorced now, both sides are free to pursue a new lover if they wanted to.
  • Amoral Attorney: Braden Chance is the best example of this in the story, as he is the one who's responsible for setting off the whole story by wrongly evicting poor squatters, whom he knew were in fact tenants who were paying rent to stay in the supposedly abandoned building.
  • Army of Lawyers: Drake & Sweeney is this because it is a large law firm with eight hundred lawyers.
    • 14th Street Legal Clinic can count as a far smaller group, with only three people (four people, when Michael joined them). Be warned that this group can be just as powerful and terrifying as a normal law firm.
  • Babies Ever After:
    • Subverted with the case between Michael and Claire. Their relationship had gone so stale (because both sides busied themselves with work) that they never even tried to have a child. It's amazing that they haven't divorced yet before the story started, though Michael claimed their marriage was already at the verge of completely deteriorating.
    • Played straight with a number of people like Barry, Hector, and Mordecai.
  • Berserk Button: Mordecai has no patience for bureaucrats and government workers, especially when you consider what they have done to the poor.
  • Bittersweet Ending: It's arguable how bittersweet and how good the ending is.
    • On one hand, Michael had to go through a lot ever since the incident with Mister, and his personal future is left unclear and ambiguous at the end. Mister as well as Lontae Burton and her children, victims of the wrongful eviction, are still dead. And Tillman Gantry, the one who had responsibility for covering up the fact that the 'squatters' were paying rent at a supposed abandoned building, didn't lose anything major nor receive any real punishment.
    • On the other hand, Braden Chance, the man responsible for the wrongful eviction, was fired for his crimes. The firm that Braden worked for end up having to pay millions of dollars for their employee's crimes, with a good chunk of that money being used to help improve the finance of Mordecai's firm (which was starting to slowly go downhill from running out of funds). The surviving evictees of the wrongly eviction are going to get a nice compensation. Arthur Jacobs, the firm's owner, decided to make up for his mistake by having his firm help out protecting the poor in the legal world. Hector Palma not only was able to escape the case unharmed, but also is provided an opportunity to make up for his mistake for the wrongful eviction. And Michael seems to be developing a new romance with Megan.
  • Break the Haughty: You can't blame Michael for suffering this after the incident with Mister and the death of the Burton family.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: A street person named Drano told Michael and Mordecai how he got his name. Apparently, he had a younger sister (who was just a baby at the time) who wouldn't stop crying. This led him and his family being unable to sleep at all at night. He ended up killing his baby sister by feeding her some 'Drano' (a drain cleaner product) so he and his family can finally get some sleep (which they did). As disturbing as that is, Mordecai winked at Michael, hinting that the former has heard similar stories to this.
    • The same can be said for every situation for the poor. Mordecai can sure describe it perfectly:
      Mordecai: "Take a guy living on the streets, in and out of shelters, working somewhere for minimum wage, trying his best to step up and become self-sufficient. Then he gets arrested for sleeping under a bridge. He doesn't want to be sleeping under a bridge, but everybody's got to sleep somewhere. He's guilty because the city council, in its brilliance, has made it a crime to be homeless. He has to pay thirty bucks just to get out of jail, and another thirty for his fine. Sixty bucks out of a very shallow pocket. So the guy gets kicked down another notch. He's been arrested, humiliated, fined, punished, and he's supposed to see the error of his ways and go find a home. Get off the damned streets. It's happening in most of our cities."
  • Cassandra Truth: When Michael stole the file from Drake & Sweeney, the law firm and its people sent out the police to harass and arrest him until they get back the file. However, the law firm didn't know that the file contained proof that one of their employees, Braden Chance, had illegally evicted tenants (some of them being the deceased Burton family, who was still being talked in the city). Michael warned them that the file contained dirt on Braden and, in extension, the law firm. But nobody listened to him and continued with the harassment and arrest. So now, the law firm is in the receiving end of harassment and criticism by the media after the file was leaked to the newspapers.
  • Crusading Lawyer: Mordecai and his street lawyer allies, with Michael becoming one as well.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: This whole story wouldn't have happened if Braden hadn't wrongly evicted the poor tenants from the building. Sure, the deal could have been ruined since the process would have taken months to finish, but that would have meant that the poor tenants would have left the building after winter have passed. Mister wouldn't have attacked the firm and the Burton family wouldn't have died from being trapped in a car during a snow storm.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: During a call between Michael and his older brother Warner, Warner reminisce on how back during his days in law school, half of his class wanted to do public interest law during their first year in school (according to a survey they did). But after they had graduated, everybody went straight to the money-making jobs. Warner didn't know why that happened, but Michael had a pretty good idea why:
    Michael: "Law school makes you greedy."
  • Deadpan Snarker: It isn't hard to see how sarcastic and snarky Michael is in his head, especially at the beginning of the story when he was held captive by a man armed with a pistol and dynamite.
  • Deus ex Machina: What were the odds that a drug dealer, who was being chased by cops, end up running a red light and end up crashing into Michael and his car? And this happened while Michael had stolen a file from his firm, and was planning to have it copied before trying to return the original file back before someone found out it was stolen. Then again, D.C. isn't the safest city...
  • Drives Like Crazy: As Michael had to learn the hard way, Mordecai is very reckless when driving. It doesn't help that the latter's car isn't in best condition (nor have functioning seat belts).
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Well, calling Rafter a friend is a 'major' stretch. All his co-workers hated his personality. And during the hostage-taking by Mister, everyone but Rafter himself would have thrown Rafter during the bus to save their skins (and understandingly disappointed that Rafter didn't die in the end).
  • Good Lawyers, Good Clients: It seems that the 'good' street lawyers protect the innocent poor while 'bad' firm lawyers have no problem helping rich clients who could be making the lives of the poor worse.
  • He Knows Too Much: Kito Spires, one of Lontae's supposed husbands, had been shot down by most likely someone under Tillman Gantry in order to prevent Kito from exposing any information about Tillman's involvement in the illegal eviction case.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Michael and Mordecai become this after becoming partners in the street law firm.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: When Michael stole the file from his old firm and refused to give it back, the higher-ups decided to force Michael into returning it by humiliating him. How? Have Michael arrested, then have his arrest publicized in the newspaper. Michael and Mordecai fired back by using the newspapers to publicize the fact that one of the firm's lawyers had illegally evicted a group of poor people, including Lontae Burton and her children, which led to the Burton family's death. Sure enough, the firm's image went downhill and eventually led them to lose millions of dollars at court.
  • I Have No Son!: Ruby's son denounced his own mother, preferring to be adopted by Ruby's acquaintances, because he is sick and tired of living in the streets and his mother's job as a prostitute.
  • Living Lie-Detector: There may be no sci-fi or magic in this story, but it doesn't mean a polygraph test can be underestimated.
  • Maybe Ever After: It's unsure how Michael's new blooming relationship with Megan will go, as the story ends with the two of them planning to take their new relationship slowly since Michael has been through a lot during the span of just a month.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Hector Palma did not take it well when he found out about the death of Lontae Burton and her children, some of the evictees he shared responsibility for having them wrongly evicted. This guilt pushed him into tipping off Michael about the truth behind the eviction, as he witnessed Michael investigating it when Michael questioned Braden on the eviction.
    • Michael also felt responsible for the Burton family's death because he blamed himself for not acting sooner, for not helping them when he first met them back at the homeless shelter. If he had, Ontario and his family wouldn't have died from being trapped inside a car blocked up by snow and filling up by the car's exhaust fumes.
  • Only Friend: Around the start of the story, it seemed that the only real friend that Michael has in Drake & Sweeney is Barry Nuzzo, whom he worked with when they worked at the law firm at the same year.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Mister dying after holding Michael and his co-workers hostage caused Michael to start investigating about Mister's background and why he attacked the firm. And the death of Lontae Burton and her children, especially Ontario, pushed Michael into leaving his old firm and pursuing homeless law.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: De Orio is a smart and uncorrupted judge who performs his trials fairly, which was good as he was in-charge of managing the trial against the Drake & Sweeney law firm.
  • Riches to Rags: Michael's situation when he finally decided to quit the firm to become a street lawyer.
  • Rousing Speech: One of Mordecai's specialties. As a professional street lawyer, he knows how to motivate people to his side, may it be the jury, the judge, or a group of people in a rally.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Another of Mordecai's specialties. Being a street lawyer, and one who hates bureaucrats and government workers at that, it's only natural that his job will require him to threaten and bully anyone who has been kicking the street people around. And dear God, don't make him your enemy at court with a jury filled with street people...
  • Sympathy for the Devil: After Michael and Mordecai published the stolen file (about the wrongly evictions) in the newspapers, Michael admit that he feels sorry for most of the lawyers in D&S because they will be dragged through hell because of the actions of one corrupted lawyer being exposed. While a number of these lawyers may be greedy or indifferent towards the poor, they may at least decent people who were completely unaware of Braden's crime. And now, everyone has to pay the price because just one of them broke the law.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Ontario and his siblings.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Drano had no problems killing off his crying baby sister with detergent just so he and his family can have a goodnight sleep. Based on Mordecai's reaction, this isn't new.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Every liar's nightmare? A polygraph test.
    • Every rich, white firm lawyer's nightmare? Being a guilty defendant at a court, with your opponent and the jury being colored people and street people.