Law in Popular Culture

The Confession: Excerpt from John Grisham's Winning Entry for Harper Lee Prize


John Grisham’s novel The Confession, chronicling the gut-wrenching politics of a last-ditch death penalty appeal in Texas, is the winner of the inaugural Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

Robbie Flak’s father purchased the old train station in downtown Slone in 1972, while Robbie was still in high school and just before the city was about to tear it down. Mr. Flak Sr. had made some money suing drilling companies and needed to spend a little of it. He and his partners renovated the station and re-established themselves there, and for the next 20 years prospered nicely. They certainly weren’t rich, not by Texas standards anyway, but they were successful lawyers and the small firm was well-regarded in town.

Then along came Robbie. He began working at the firm when he was a teenager, and it was soon evident to the other lawyers there that he was different. He showed little interest in profits but was consumed with social injustice. He urged his father to take on civil rights cases, age- and sex-discrimination cases, unfair housing cases, police brutality cases, the type of work that can get one ostracized in a small Southern town. Brilliant and brash, Robbie finished college up North, in three years, and sailed through law school at the University of Texas at Austin. He never interviewed for a job, never thought about working anywhere but the train station in downtown Slone. There were so many people there he wanted to sue, so many mistreated and downtrodden clients who needed him.

He and his father fought from day one. The other lawyers either retired or moved on. In 1990, at the age of 35, Robbie sued the city of Tyler, Texas, for housing discrimination. The trial, in Tyler, lasted for a month, and at one point Robbie was forced to hire bodyguards when the death threats became too credible. When the jury returned a verdict for $90 million, Robbie Flak became a legend, a wealthy man and an unrestrained radical lawyer, now with the money to raise more hell than he could ever imagine.

Continue readingThe Confession: Excerpt from John Grisham’s Winning Entry for Harper Lee Prize” online in the September ABA Journal.

Also see:John Grisham on Grappling with Race, the Death Penalty; and Lawyers ‘Polluting Their Own Profession’

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