The Cultural Gutter

taking trash seriously

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

First, Kill All the Lawyers. Or Not. Whatever.

Chris Szego
Posted October 29, 2009

weejulie.JPGI
never thought a courtroom would make a particularly good backdrop for
romance. Drama, certainly, in a gavel-pounding, “you can’t
handle the truth” sort of way. But I thought the procedural nature of the
law, with its rules and regulations, and sheer mind-numbing attention
to detail precluded any possibility of romance.

Sometimes it’s nice to be proved wrong.

In this case, I was schooled by Julie James. James herself was in her
third year as a trial lawyer at a large coporate law firm when she
had an idea for a romantic comedy. She wrote it as a screenplay, and
then wrote a second. Both were optioned. When the option on the first ran
out, her agent suggested she expand it. That story became her first
novel, Just the Sexiest Man Alive. I picked it up on a whim, and was impressed. About a movie star and
the lawyer who is assigned to him, very much against her will, for
role coaching, the book was smart, amusing, and had as much to say
about Hollywood as it did the courtroom. It was charming, witty, and, surprising in a contemporary, almost chaste.

James’ second book, Practice Makes Perfect,
is all law, all the time, and much to my own surprise, I liked it
even more than the first. Set in a large Chicago law firm, it’s
the story of lawyers Payton Kendall and J.D. Jameson. For eight
years they’ve competed with and aggravated one another, but in
order to make partner, they’ve avoided any outright conflict. Then
they’re asked to work together to land a major client. It would be
a huge coup for the firm, and both are prepared to suck it up and get
it done. Then they’re told that when it comes to making partner,
there’s only room enough for one.

Now,
Canadian law may differ slightly from its American cousin, but
partnerships work the same way: if you don’t make make partner the
year you’re up for it, your career at that firm is effectively
over. Both J.D. and Payton have put in hundreds of late nights, and
billed thousands of hours, but those efforts will mean nothing if
they don’t make partner. Both are very great litigators. But
Payton, who has fought her way up through what is still a
male-dominated profession, worries that the old-boy network will shut
her out at this critical moment. And J.D., who has something to
prove to his powerful and controlling family, is concerned that
recent equality-based hiring practices will leave him out in the
cold.

practice 250.jpgThe
way James tells the story, both are very real concerns (in truth,
Payton’s worry is much more valid: the firm’s recent decision to
hire ten percent more female partners will bring them up to a
whopping twenty-eight percent. And at almost every juncture, she has
to push her way through a male-erected barrier that J.D. doesn’t
even see. But while interesting, and kind of depressing, that’s
not the point). The firm knows Payton and J.D. both deserve to make
partner: it just doesn’t want to split the profits into that one
extra slice. So instead, two naturally antagonistic lawyers are set
up for a cage match. They don’t compete in the courtroom, though
we do get to see them operate there. But when the pressure mounts,
they begin to play tricks on one another. Mostly on each other’s
clothing, which is both more amusing and more damaging than it might
sound.

But this is a romance novel. And, it’s fairly clear to the reader that
the sparks Payton and J.D. strike off one another come from a fuel
that is definitely not dislike. The enemies-to-lovers trope is
usually a tough sell for me. Often the enmity is either fake, which
makes the story ridiculous, or it’s too real, which makes the
conversion incomprehensible. But in James’ skillful hands, it is
entirely believable, and very human. Sometimes it’s the smallest
and stupidest mistakes that force people off track. Luckily it often
only takes something small to set things right again. Like a
heartfelt apology, say: small, simple, and incredibly difficult. And
when written by Julie James, beautifully handled.

James’
ear for dialogue is excellent. Much of the major story events happen
in or around the dialogue, which is likely a carryover from her
screenwriting days. It sounds real,
and makes for a tight, immensely readable story about people you
might actually know. And she blends her setting seamlessly:
corporate law isn’t tacked on as an afterthought, it’s central to
everything the two main characters do. They use legal terms. They
perform the routines and practices of lawyers. They’re
argumentative, highly competitive, and always want to have the last
word. And they like
that about themselves. Because of James’ deft characterization and
sensitive prose, readers do too.

Liking corporate laywers? Who’d have guessed? In interviews, James
makes it clear that her stories are fiction.
While the general structure of law firms, courtroom practices and
lawyers’ days is correct, the clients and cases are entirely ,made
up
. She didn’t, however, invent is the crazy workload. The years of
eighteen hour days; the waist-high stacks of paperwork; the
ceaseless, unending demands on one’s time… yikes. Much, much
better to read all about it.

~~~

Chris
Szego, whose dear friend is a corporate lawyer, thinks “argumentative” and “competitive” are possibly not strong enough terms.

Comments

Leave a Reply





  • Support Gutterthon 2015!

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    Gentleman’s Gazette has a piece on the sartorial splendor of Hercule Poirot and of Captain Hastings in the BBC television adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Poirot mysteries.

    ~

    At Pitchfork, Barry Walters writes about Grace Jones. “One night in 1993, I finally got my chance to see Jones perform at a local gay nightclub and took my friend Brian, whose partner Mark was too sick to join us….She didn’t back away from the elephant in the room: She dedicated one song to artist and AIDS casualty Keith Haring, who had used her body for a canvas on the occasion of her legendary 1985 Paradise Garage performance. That night’s show was remarkable for the simple fact that Jones just kept on going, granting one encore request after another, waiting patiently while the sound man scoured backing tapes to find the fans’ offbeat choices. When Jones got to such minor numbers as ‘Crush,’ it became clear that she didn’t want to leave. She was giving as much of herself as she could to the beleaguered troops, knowing full well that many wouldn’t live long enough to see her again.”

    ~

    At Pornokitsch, The Gutter’s own dame with a shady past Carol writes about five films noir.  “Do you want to watch some film noir? I hope so, because I have five films to suggest. Films about dames gone wrong, poor doomed saps, murders, sex and modern knights errant.”

    ~

    At The Alcohol Professor, The Gutter’s own Keith writes about Billie Holiday in a fantastic two-part piece. Part one traces “the history of Billie Holiday and NYC nightlife through the Harlem Renaissance to Café Society.” Part two covers “Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and the jazz scene in New York City clubs of a bygone era.”

    ~

    The New Yorker has a profile of author Gene Wolfe. “His narrators may be prophets, or liars, or merely crazy, but somewhere in their stories they help to reveal what Wolfe most wants his readers to know: that compassion can withstand the most brutal of futures and exist on the most distant planets, and it has been part of us since ages long past.”

    ~

    Remezcla has a gallery of Lourdes Grobet’s portraits of luchadores with their families and a bit of an interview with her. (Yes, the luchadores are in their masks and often wearing suits or casual wear, which is the best thing). (Thanks, Matt!) “Father and warrior, the masked wrestler is the perfect metaphor for the duality that Grobet’s photography wants to depict. Her work is resonant because she doesn’t try to demolish the myths that envelop lucha libre – she simply nurtures and expands them in an offbeat way.”

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: