- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006


By Joseph C. Goulden

St. Martin’s, $27.95, 428 pages

In 1972, Joseph C. Goulden wrote arguably the most important book of his career — at least, until the current one appeared.

That year’s “The Superlawyers: The Small and Powerful World of the Great Washington Law Firms” considered the state of the legal profession in Washington at the height of the Nixon era, taking chapter-long looks at such Washington worthies as Clark Clifford and Thomas G. Corcoran, along with considering the ramifications of the then-nascent field of public interest law.

Much has changed in Washington in the intervening 34 years. Mr. Clifford and “Tommy the Cork” long ago departed this plane, and the practice of law in the nation’s capital has expanded with an alacrity that could not have been envisioned in the early 1970s.

As Washington evolved from the sleepy Southern town it once was, the lawyering profession evolved along with it. The money has gotten bigger and avarice has become more pronounced. With that in mind, the present utility of Mr. Goulden’s current book — a necessary and timely follow-up to “The Superlawyers” — becomes apparent.

“The Money Lawyers: The No-Holds-Barred World of Today’s Richest and Most Powerful Lawyers” does exactly what the title suggests. As Mr. Goulden writes early in the text, the book is “about lawyers and how their careers indicate what is happening to the legal profession.” And indeed, much is happening to that profession, if Mr. Goulden’s book is any indication.

As in the 1972 volume on the same subject, Mr. Goulden in 2006 renders extended and nuanced considerations of the careers of some of Washington’s most interesting legal professionals.

Mr. Goulden’s gift for characterization shines in his treatment of David Boies’ role in the 2000 presidential election recount — specifically, in his memorable comparison of Mr. Boies to the captain of the Titanic as his efforts on part of the Gore-Lieberman ticket bore bitter fruit.

The Boies section is early in the book, neatly setting the tone for similar insights about people like Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., who “personifies the juxtaposition of money and politics,” and other elite figures in the oft-twained worlds of lobbying and public-interest law.

There is much more to “The Money Lawyers,” of course, than these character descriptions. It features useful treatments of class action suits dealing with breast implants and “fen-phen” diet pills, which provide useful evidence for perhaps the most important point in the book for political junkies: These “plaintiff lawyers,” almost always, are Democrats, and so much of the money they earn through gargantuan awards in these suits gets funnelled into the Democratic Party campaign machine.

Thus the rapid political ascension of someone like John Edwards — malpractice lawyer turned one-term senator turned vice presidential candidate — makes sense. The moneyed-up Democratic Party looks, like most organizations relying on fund raising, to be most interested in catering to its big-dollar fund-raisers. Those interested in chiding the Republican Party for embracing so-called K Street conservatism would do well to consider the corrosive effects of “plaintiff lawyer” money in the political process on the other side, perhaps coming to an understanding that corporations are forced to protect their own interests in a world where ruinous class-action suits have become a matter of course.

Some of the sharpest writing in the book occurs when Mr. Goulden takes aim at the plaintiffs in these class-action affairs. Whether he is describing TV Guide, which carried advertisements for plaintiffs for “fen-phen” actions, as “required reading for overweight couch potatoes,” or he is musing, in response to a MCLE professional development course for lawyers, that he would not “knowingly retain a lawyer who had to go to class to develop proper eating habits,” Mr. Goulden’s acid wit serves him — and his thesis — well.

After describing the myriad problems with the Washington legal culture, it is natural that Mr. Goulden asks, toward the end of the book, what is to be done about its material intemperance and spiritual shortcomings. An undercurrent of despair resounds through this final section; when considering the idea that law schools can serve to check the greed run rampant through the legal system, for example, Mr. Goulden’s response is that is a “laughable solution,” likening law schools to “trade schools.”

Mr. Goulden harbors the hope that individual responsibility, adopted en masse, will help curb the extravagances of the current legal culture. That said, given the physical and mental condition that many Americans are in these days, it is hard not to wonder if such hopes can bear fruit.

A.G. Gancarski is a writer in Jacksonville, Fla.

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