I have found the appeal of John Grisham’s books to be rooted in the fascinating lawyers he creates book after book. To have an effective legal mystery you need interesting lawyers. Heald succeeded with his clerks.
Having Arthur and Phil, at their first meeting, relate their personal backgrounds to each other in 15 words or less was clever:
Arthur – “Iowa farm, boring corn, ecology degree, Chicago law, environmental division of the Justice Department.”
Phil – “San Fran suburbs, single mom, divinity school, Stanford law, ACLU Cal office”.
Melanie is concisely introduced in the book through a description by the Judge‘s secretary, Ms. Stillwater:
“This is Melanie Wilkerson,” the proud secretary announced, “the only runner-up Miss Georgia to finish in the top ten percent of her law school class at Harvard.”
I found their diverse backgrounds plausible. In 45 years of experience with law school and the legal profession there is no standard route to becoming a lawyer. We come from all sorts of places and academic backgrounds. It really does not matter what you took in university before law school.
At the same time we all have prejudices. A month ago I would have thought that Melanie’s background as a beauty pageant contestant implausible for a law student. Watching Reese Witherspon, a pre-law fashion merchandising major, in the movie, Legally Blonde, where she is a successful law student at Harvard had not changed my mind.
What made me recognize my prejudice was learning from my articling student that a third year law student at the University of Saskatchewan, Siera Bearchell, had, as Miss Canada, just finished 9th in this year's Miss Universe Pageant.
On the Miss Universe Canada website she spoke about the stigma of being in pageants:
I will briefly touch on pageants in general and the stigma often attached to pageant girls. I often attribute much of what I have accomplished to my experience in pageantry. Pageants give young women a platform to stand upon to speak on issues important to them and to make a difference in themselves and in their community. Pageants allow young women to gain speaking, communication and networking skills. Participating in a pageant is not just about winning a sash and title. The people we meet, the connections we gain and the experiences we are able to be a part of can be truly life changing.
Criticized for gaining weight after being chosen Ms. Canada she has eloquently spoken out against body shaming.
In the book Melanie shows how the commitment, determination and discipline required in pageants serves her well as a law clerk.
I will never think again a “pageant girl” is unlikely in any occupation.
Having two sons who are young lawyers and a series of articling student I found Heald was convincing in his presentation of the clerks. Arthur, Phil and Melanie have the earnestness of young lawyers striving for perfection in their work. Each works hard.
Heald showed how young lawyers find it interesting to apply their legal training to real life cases. How they are now helping to provide the answers to legal issues that will guide lawyers and judges in the future.
The law is no longer abstract when you deal with people’s problems. In death cases at the Court of Appeal it is with the most fundamental of questions – life or death for the appellant.
Heald vividly sets out the tension when a law clerk reviews a file and researches the law and then makes a recommendation to the Judge on a life and death decision.
To become clerks, no matter their opinion on the death penalty, they effectively had to state in their interviews for the position that if their conclusion, after reviewing the facts and law, was that there was no legal basis to stay execution they would recommend in their memo of the case that there not be a stay of execution.
When Heald was a clerk he worked on death cases. In my next post he touches on his involvement in the case of one of America’s most famous serial killers and how his experience was used in Courting Death.
I doubt I could have been a law clerk in America because I do not believe in the death penalty. I have always been grateful as a lawyer that Canada has not had the death penalty for over 50 years.