Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Believe Care Invest: The Firm

Mitch McDeere, graduating third at Harvard Law, interviews with a tax firm based out of Memphis. They make him an offer so generous he can’t refuse. He goes home and tells his wife they won’t be poor anymore.

Why Mitch might be hard to identify with: He has a passion for tax law! Not exactly getting innocent people off death row. Sounds terribly boring. He’s also easily seduced by money and doesn’t notice or care that the firm only hires white men.
  • The bald-faced racism and misogyny of the firm feels startlingly real.
  • The details of Mitch’s life create a believable working class portrait.
  • The author is a lawyer, and there are lots of real details: Mitch says in his interview, “I enjoy research.” Grisham then tells us, “They nodded and acknowledged this obvious lie. It was part of the ritual. No law student or lawyer in his right mind enjoyed research, yet, without fail, every prospective associate professed a deep love for the library.”
  • He falls into this trap because he and his wife are very poor at the moment, with a Mazda hatchback they have to jump-start every time they use it. It’s a big deal when their wine has an actual cork.
  • He’s clearly had a pretty traumatic life: His dad died in a mining accident, his mom remarried a bad man, a brother died in Vietnam, his other brother he won’t discuss, he had to quit football due to a knee injury.
  • He’s been a second-class citizen at Harvard, having been to a weak undergrad school and not having the money the other kids have.
  • We get little hints (that Mitch misses) this may be a very evil firm, killing partners who try to leave. “It is a rare, extremely rare occasion when a lawyer leaves our firm. It is simply unheard of.”
  • He’s hungry, and we like that.
  • He’s full of tricks and traps at the interview. He doesn’t know who will be interviewing him, so he memorizes the alma maters of all 41 partners. When one of them implicitly criticizes him by saying “I don’t imagine Western Kentucky is much of an academic school,” he responds by saying “Sort of like Kansas State.” They’re impressed that he could respond that way.
  • He’s willing to keep secrets (the whereabouts of his living brother) even in situations where he’s got huge incentive to tell all.
Strength / Flaw: Ambitious / Greedy


Nat 20 said...

I've never read The Firm, and maybe I'm just really not the target audience, but man, Mitch came off as a total asshole to me. Thinking of anything non-Harvard as a lesser school, responding to a slip of the tongue with an insult, dreaming of what color car he'd get... somehow all the Care stuff with his family and poverty just didn't do it for me. He didn't strike me as a poor boy hungry to earn a good wage, he seemed greedy and entitled.

Conversely, his apparent fondness for tax law made him more human to me, because he didn't seem to think he was slumming it by doing something boring and non-glamorous (whereas the stereotypical asshole lawyer character is a showboating trial lawyer).

As it stands I'd go through the rest of the novel thinking "this jerk deserves what he gets"... which is probably why I'm a writer and not a rich superlawyer.

Nat 20 said...

Totally unrelated note, having two main characters named McDeere and McKnight seems like something an editor should have flagged.

Matt Bird said...

I think one of the pleasures of the novel is that he does deserve what he gets. We enjoy seeing the greedy get punished. This to me is why the book was more appealing than the movie. In the book, he's still on the run from the mob at the end, but in the movie he very unconvincingly convinces the mob to leave him alone and gets to keep his great life.

Unknown said...

@Nat 20...he is a lawyer after all...there is only so far an audience can get invested in him lol. I think that's why John Grisam had to give him such an over the top tragic back story. It's an out of the frying pan into the fire story at heart I think.