In A Civil Action, attorney Jan Schlichtmann proved to not only be aggressive, daring, and extremely intelligent, but also at times he proved to be arrogant and pushed those that he worked with, worked for, and the legal system itself to the very edge of the line and to their wits end. Oftentimes, the public has a skewed assumption of the temperament, demeanor, and even personality of an attorney. When kids talk a lot or others can easily persuade and lead others, or even if someone is able to debate even the smallest of details, they are told you should be a lawyer!. While all these things are helpful if one were to become an attorney, they are not the only traits. Attorneys are even sometimes viewed as sneaky, snakes, cunning, etc. but again, this is an assumption and a grouping of a rather large number of professionals.
Throughout the book, Jan seems to prove the derogatory assumptions to be accurate in that he fit the stigma attached to attorneys. Although he was a very successful attorney, people did not always favor him (Magistrate Judge __ proved this). With that being said, how are these traits affected with the ongoing rise of costs of litigation? Litigation is proving to get more and more costly as the years progress which is encouraging more and more attorneys to settle before their cases reach litigation another reason being suggestions and push back from Judges who would rather counsel work the cases out themselves rather than add another case to their already overwhelming docket. The cost and time it takes attorneys to litigate may not always pay off. Small boutique attorneys risk their own livelihood to litigate cases that may reach the hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. Jan is a great example of this. Jan and his team worked from a lavish office and took pleasure in a lavish lifestyle (Jan more than most), but this quickly took a turn once litigation began and continued for longer than any of them had hoped.
The cost of discovery, expert witness statements and testimony, and research while keeping a firm with salaries and utilities still to pay quickly became too much for Jan. His partners used their homes as collateral, Jan became homeless and lost possessions like his car, and his firm had to go without some of the amenities they became so accustomed to such as a gardener who took care of office plants and catered lunches. Jan became manic and obsessed with the Woburn case to the point where friends and colleagues began to worry and confront him about it. But Jan’s stubbornness and headstrong personality proved to be difficult to counter and his colleagues had to deal with the consequences – such as the stress that comes along with not knowing how a case will turn out when your house is being used as collateral to fund it. Jan coped with the stress and costs in his own way. He willingly gave up his home and his luxury car and ways around the office and buried himself even further into the Woburn case. One could say he even had a small period of time where he struggled with depression and maybe alcoholism.
According to the Florida Bar Journal, in a study done in 2016 of 13,000 attorneys between 21%-31% qualified as problem drinkers..and those struggling with depression, anxiety, and stress were 28, 19, and 23 percent respectively. These percentages are extremely high and one could conclude that there are many reasons why this trend is in the legal profession. One being, the stress that comes with the job and the costs attached to not only litigation but running a firm. Luckily, each state has their own variation of Legal Assistance Programs that help attorneys with overcoming struggles with substance abuse, alcohol abuse, compulsive behavior and other mental health issues that an attorney may deal with. In my opinion, Jan should have taken advantage of this service and talked to someone about the stress and anxiety he was dealing with at the time of the Woburn case. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Civil Action and was not fully aware of the costs of litigation and how quickly those costs could add up for a case as large as the Woburn case. Working in a firm that files and defends civil suits, it was interesting to read about Jan’s process that I didn’t know too much about or would have never heard otherwise (such as a Rule 11 Motion).
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