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BOOK REVIEW : LAWYERS AND THIEVES, by Roy Grutman and Bob Thomas . Simon & Schuster. $19.95, 210 pages : A Boast of Beating the Legal System

July 04, 1990|JONATHAN KIRSCH

Lawyer-bashing is one of America's favorite sports.

Only last week, in these pages, Times columnist Jack Smith passed along one reader's opinion that even those pesky kernels of plastic foam now used as packing material are somehow the result of the machinations of some evil attorney. So there is absolutely nothing surprising about the vilification of lawyers and the legal profession in "Lawyers and Thieves"--except, perhaps, the fact that the book is written by an attorney.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday July 9, 1990 Home Edition View Part E Page 8 Column 4 View Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Book review--"Lawyers and Thieves," reviewed in View July 4, is the work of co-authors Roy Grutman and Bill Thomas. Thomas' first name was incorrectly listed.

"For lawyers, the law is not a search for truth, it's a search for clients," write Roy Grutman and his co-author, Bob Thomas, at the very outset of "Lawyers and Thieves." "(L)awyers have become cutthroat salesman and law firms have turned into high-volume retail outlets. . . . These days, lawyers are more like magicians who see law as a sleight-of-hand game for rearranging wealth."

Grutman is an accomplished trial lawyer with a big reputation and a lot of famous clients: Bob Guccione, Jerry Falwell, Jackie Collins, etc. (He figures prominently, for instance, in "Shark Tank," the story of the rise and fall of a mega-firm that cherished its reputation for ruthlessness in the practice of law.) Bob Thomas, although credited as co-author, is apparently only Grutman's "ghost"--the first-person war stories in "Lawyers and Thieves" belong exclusively to Grutman.

As it turns out, Grutman has some pretty good war stories, the kind that lawyers love to tell each other (and anyone else who will listen). Most of Grutman's yarns make for a fast, easy read, and even if "Lawyers and Thieves" is really not much more than a trial lawyer's memoirs, it is a superior example of the genre. At its best, "Lawyers and Thieves" has the quality of hard-boiled mystery fiction--tough, knowing, street-wise, and full of dirty little secrets.

Still, Grutman appears to remind himself from time to time that he is offering something loftier and more substantial than a collection of war stories. He dispenses little nibbles of advice: "Answer defensively," he suggests to witnesses. "Trust your instinct," he tells clients in search of lawyers. And Grutman insists that his parade of horribles amounts to an expose of the American system of jurisprudence--he indicts all lawyers (and, in a real sense, the legal system itself) on the strength of evidence against the worst among them.

Thus, after telling a particularly grisly and shocking tale about "the most complete hustler who ever passed the bar"--a colorful Brooklyn personal-injury lawyer with a dangerous obsession for beautiful young women--Grutman feels compelled to hold up the miscreant as somehow typical of the legal profession in general. "Like all lawyers who prey on clients," he observes, "(he) saw other people as victims, the value-added by-products of crimes and accidents."

Indeed, Grutman takes every opportunity to engage in gratuitous rhetorical overkill, thereby hyping the flawed premise of his book. "All lawyers," he declares, "are essentially confidence men, some in the best sense, many in the worst"--whatever that is supposed to mean. And he accuses the founder of Finley, Kumble, the law firm where Grutman worked as a senior partner for six years, of "turn(ing) the practice of law from a profession into a bicoastal bait-and-switch operation."

Roy Grutman's favorite lawyer is, not surprisingly, Roy Grutman. For example, he reproduces a portion of the deposition testimony that he elicited from Henry Kissinger in a libel action against "Penthouse," and then reports that Kissinger decided to drop the case. "The deposition," he concludes, "served its purpose."

After quoting another celebrated lawyer, Gerry Spence, who once described Grutman as "cunning, crafty and tough," the author fairly glows with pride: "In a line of work where threatening behavior is a virtue," Grutman writes, "I could not have asked for a better endorsement."

Not long ago, I reviewed a book by Gerry Spence in these pages--Spence's book was a high-minded form of lawyer-bashing that called for urgent and fundamental reform of the American legal system in the interests of justice. Significantly, Grutman is not much interested in justice, and he makes no demands for reform in "Lawyers and Thieves." Rather, Roy Grutman seems to revel in his expertise and accomplishment as a practitioner in what he sees as a corrupt and debased profession. "Lawyers and Thieves" is not a lament--it is a boast.

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