John Grisham: The Making of Rogue Lawyer

John Grisham: The Making of Rogue Lawyer

As I write one novel I’m always thinking of others. I watch lawyers, trials, lawsuits, trends in litigation, courts, anything and everything to do with the law. In America, at least, that means the material is endless. On any day, I have notes and partial outlines for four or five other books, most of which eventually disappear. The best ideas stick and become novels.

Rogue Lawyer was different. Three years ago I started with a character, a forty-something lawyer who became Sebastian Rudd. He developed slowly over time as his persona and character evolved. He is a loner with no other real purpose in life. He is married to the law, with no spouse and not a lot of friends to interfere. He is fearless, the kind of lawyer who takes cases other lawyers run from. He loves the thrill of the courtroom, something few lawyers actually do. He hates injustice and he really hates the people responsible for it – bad cops, ambitious prosecutors, spineless judges. He is not afraid to cheat, but only when the cheating is initiated by the authorities. Once cheating is legitimized, he can do it with the best of them. He is a brawler, both inside the courtroom and out. He’s not afraid to throw a punch if the situation demands it. He is not motivated by money, though his reputation attracts enough clients. He is not motivated by notoriety, though he seldom runs from it. He prefers not to work in a traditional office because his last one was firebombed. To knock off the edge, he drinks fine bourbons, shoots pool at all hours of the day and night, plays dirty golf for money with a bunch of ex-cons, and hangs around cage fighters.

Once I had the character, he needed some cases, and not just any would do. Through his clients and their troubles, I wanted to explore and examine the underbelly of the American criminal justice system. How do innocent people get arrested and put on trial for murders they didn’t commit? How can our creeping police state infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens? How can tough-talking politicians pass laws that get them re-elected by locking up hundreds of thousands of Americans? Watching Sebastian, these and other questions come to light. The answers are not always easy because the problems are often too big.

What began as a series of short stories about this rogue lawyer slowly became a full-length novel as the stories got connected. It’s not a pure legal thriller as such, but there is more courtroom action with Sebastian than most of my books.

And he’ll be back. He’ll return in a fine way to represent those with no voice, those being mistreated, those who can’t find another lawyer to represent them. Sebastian will continue his lonely search for the pursuit of justice.

I was a lawyer for only ten years, and I played it safe. I never volunteered to defend a person charged with capital murder. I never ventured out of my little office to stand next to someone who frightened off every lawyer in town, including me. I preferred not to brawl in court, or to irritate the police, or to tangle with prosecutors, or to insult judges who needed insulting. But from the back bench, I secretly admired the handful of lawyers willing to do so. Deep down, I secretly wanted to be a rogue lawyer.