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Lawyering at the End of the Twentieth Century

by Sol M. Linowitz with illustrated by Martin Mayer

Pub Date: May 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-684-19416-3
Publisher: Scribner

Overlong and overly impressionistic breast-beating from one of the elder statesmen of the American bar with help from Mayer (The Greatest Ever Bank Robbery, 1990). How profound can reader response be to a book that conludes: ``The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves''? Linowitz, former US ambassador and currently senior partner of a noted ``white shoe'' law firm, gave a lawyer-thumping speech at Cornell Law School's centenary celebration. Apparently aided and abetted by several Supreme Court justices who sent admiring notes about the speech, he has here elongated it into a book-length treatment about the decline of standards in the legal profession. His major complaint is that too many lawyers, faced with increased competition and the drive for personal profit, have abdicated their independence—i.e., they are ``afraid to say no'' to clients. This might make a hard-hitting op-ed piece despite the confusing title (``betrayed'' by whom?), but the argument peters out when blown up to over 200 pages, largely on the strength of material that seems more anecdotal than evidentiary. The book has its stranger moments, as when Linowitz lionizes old-line titans like Paul Cravath for their courage to defy their clients while admitting that the doors of the law firms run by Cravath and his peers were shut to Linowitz as a young lawyer because of his ethnic origins. Too often Linowitz's valid reflections (e.g., on the unhealthy change from a long-term lawyer/client relationship to one-shot transaction work) nestle uncomfortably next to pointless or confusing stories (``An ever-increasing number of people no longer admire doctors''). Linowitz's ``solutions''—greater independence, more pro bono work- -are worthy but not exactly cutting-edge stuff. While aware of the temptation to glorify the ``good old days,'' Linowitz is not too successful in avoiding that trap: he complains of the ``forced retirement of senior partners `who had the wisdom and leisure to serve as mentors.' '' A real ho-hum.