The year is 2008 and Samantha Kofer’s career at a huge Wall Street law firm is on the fast track—until the recession hits and she gets downsized, furloughed, escorted out of the building. Samantha, though, is one of the “lucky” associates. She’s offered an opportunity to work at a legal aid clinic for one year without pay, after which there would be a slim chance that she’d get her old job back.
In a matter of days Samantha moves from Manhattan to Brady, Virginia, population 2,200, in the heart of Appalachia, a part of the world she has only read about. Mattie Wyatt, lifelong Brady resident and head of the town’s legal aid clinic, is there to teach her how to “help real people with real problems.” For the first time in her career, Samantha prepares a lawsuit, sees the inside of an actual courtroom, gets scolded by a judge, and receives threats from locals who aren’t so thrilled to have a big-city lawyer in town. And she learns that Brady, like most small towns, harbors some big secrets.
Her new job takes Samantha into the murky and dangerous world of coal mining, where laws are often broken, rules are ignored, regulations are flouted, communities are divided, and the land itself is under attack from Big Coal. Violence is always just around the corner, and within weeks Samantha finds herself engulfed in litigation that turns deadly.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Hometown:Oxford, Mississippi, and Albemarle County, Virginia
Date of Birth:February 8, 1955
Place of Birth:Jonesboro, Arkansas
Education:B.S., Mississippi State, 1977; J.D., University of Mississippi, 1981
Read an Excerpt
The horror was in the waitingthe unknown, the insomnia, the ulcers. Co-workers ignored each other and hid behind locked doors. Secretaries and paralegals passed along the rumors and refused eye contact. Everyone was on edge, wondering, "Who might be next?" The partners, the big boys, appeared shell-shocked and wanted no contact with their underlings. They might soon be ordered to slaughter them.
The gossip was brutal. Ten associates in Litigation terminated; partially trueonly seven. The entire Estate division closed, partners and all; true. Eight partners in Antitrust jumping to another firm; false, for now.
The atmosphere was so toxic that Samantha left the building whenever possible and worked with her laptop in coffee shops around lower Manhattan. She sat on a park bench one pleasant dayday ten after the fall of Lehman Brothersand gazed at the tall building down the street. It was called 110 Broad, and the top half was leased by Scully & Pershing, the biggest law firm the world had ever seen. Her firm, for now, though the future was anything but certain. Two thousand lawyers in twenty countries, half of them in New York City alone, a thousand right up there packed together on floors 30 through 65. How many wanted to jump? She couldn't guess, but she wasn't the only one. The world's largest firm was shrinking in chaos, as were its competitors. Big Law, as it was known, was just as panicked as the hedge funds, investment banks, real banks, insurance conglomerates, Washington, and on down the food chain to the merchants on Main Street.
Day ten passed without bloodshed, as did the next. On day twelve there was a flash of optimism as Ben, one of Samantha's colleagues, shared a rumor that credit markets in London were loosening a bit. Borrowers might find some cash after all. But late that afternoon the rumor had run out of gas; nothing to it. And so they waited.
Two partners ran Commercial Real Estate at Scully & Pershing. One was nearing retirement age and had already been shoved out. The other was Andy Grubman, a forty-year-old pencil pusher who'd never seen a courtroom. As a partner, he had a nice office with a distant view of the Hudson, water he hadn't noticed in years. On a shelf behind his desk, and squarely in the center of his Ego Wall, there was a collection of miniature skyscrapers. "My buildings" he liked to call them. Upon completion of one of his buildings, he commissioned a sculptor to replicate it on a smaller scale, and he generously gave an even smaller trophy to each member of "my team." In her three years at S&P, Samantha's collection had six buildings, and that was as large as it would get.
"Have a seat," he ordered as he closed the door. Samantha sat in a chair next to Ben, who was next to Izabelle. The three associates studied their feet, waiting. Samantha felt the urge to grab Ben's hand, like a terrified prisoner facing a firing squad. Andy fell into his chair, and, avoiding eye contact but desperate to get things over with, he recapped the mess they were in.
"As you know, Lehman Brothers folded fourteen days ago."
No kidding, Andy! The financial crisis and credit meltdown had the world on the brink of a catastrophe and everyone knew it. But then, Andy rarely had an original thought.
"We have five projects in the works, all funded by Lehman. I've talked at length with the owners, and all five are pulling the plug. We had three more in the distance, two with Lehman, one with Lloyd's, and, well, all credit is frozen. The bankers are in their bunkers, afraid to loan a dime."
Yes, Andy, we know this too. It's front-page. Just get it over with before we jump.
"The exec committee met yesterday and made some cuts. Thirty first-year associates are being let go; some terminated outright, others laid off. All new hires are deferred indefinitely. Probate is gone. And, well, there is no easy way to say this, but our entire division is on the block. Cut. Eliminated. Who knows when owners will start building again, if ever. The firm is unwilling to keep you on the payroll while the world waits for loose credit. Hell, we could be headed for a major depression. This is probably just the first round of cuts. Sorry, guys. I'm really sorry."
Ben spoke first. "So we're being terminated outright?"
"No. I fought for you guys, okay? At first they planned to do the pink slip thing. I don't have to remind you that CRE is the smallest division in the firm and probably the hardest hit right now. I talked them into something we're calling a furlough. You'll leave now, come back later, maybe."
"Maybe?" Samantha asked. Izabelle wiped a tear but kept her composure.
"Yes, a big fat maybe. Nothing is definite right now, Samantha, okay? We're all chasing our tails. In six months we could all be at the soup kitchen. You've seen the old photos from 1929."
Come on, Andy, a soup kitchen? As a partner, your take-home last year was $2.8 million, average at S&P, which, by the way, came in fourth in net-per-partner. And fourth was not good enough, at least it wasn't until Lehman croaked and Bear Stearns imploded and the sub-prime mortgage bubble burst. Suddenly, fourth place was looking pretty good, for some anyway.
"What's a furlough?" Ben asked.
"Here's the deal. The firm keeps you under contract for the next twelve months, but you don't get a paycheck."
"Sweet," Izabelle mumbled.
Ignoring her, Andy plowed ahead: "You keep your health benefits, but only if you intern with a qualified nonprofit. HR is putting together a list of suitable outfits. You go away, do your little do-gooder bit, save the world, hope like hell the economy bounces back, then in a year or so you're back with the firm and you don't lose any seniority. You won't be in CRE but the firm will find a place for you."
"Are our jobs guaranteed when the furlough is over?" Samantha asked.
"No, nothing is guaranteed. Frankly, no one is smart enough to predict where we'll be next year. We're in the middle of an election, Europe is going to hell, the Chinese are freaking out, banks are folding, markets are crashing, nobody's building or buying. The world's coming to an end."
They sat for a moment in the gloomy silence of Andy's office, all four crushed with the reality of the end of the world. Finally, Ben asked, "You, too, Andy?"
"No, they're transferring me to Tax. Can you believe it? I hate Tax, but it was either Tax or driving a cab. I got a master's in taxation, though, so they figured they could spare me."
"Congratulations," Ben said.
"I'm sorry, guys."
"No, I mean it. I'm happy for you."
"I could be gone in a month. Who knows?"
"When do we leave?" Izabelle asked.
"Right now. The procedure is to sign a furlough agreement, pack up your stuff, clean off your desk, and hit the street. HR will e-mail you a list of nonprofits and all the paperwork. Sorry, guys."
"Please stop saying that," Samantha said. "There's nothing you can say that helps matters here."
"True, but it could be worse. The majority of those in your boat are not being offered a furlough. They're being fired on the spot."
"I'm sorry, Andy," Samantha said. "There are a lot of emotions right now."
"It's okay. I understand. You have the right to be angry and upset. Look at youall three have Ivy League law degrees and you're being escorted out of the building like thieves. Laid off like factory workers. It's awful, just awful. Some of the partners offered to cut their salaries in half to prevent this."
"I'll bet that was a small group," Ben said.
"It was, yes. Very small, I'm afraid. But the decision has been made."
A woman in a black suit and a black necktie stood at the quad where Samantha shared a "space" with three others, including Izabelle. Ben was just down the hall. The woman tried to smile as she said, "I'm Carmen. Can I help you?" She was holding an empty cardboard box, blank on all sides so no one would know it was the official Scully & Pershing repository for the office junk of those furloughed or fired or whatever.
"No, thanks," Samantha said, and she managed to do so politely. She could have snapped and been rude, but Carmen was only doing her job. Samantha began opening drawers and removing all things personal. In one drawer she had some S&P files and asked, "What about these?"
"They stay here," Carmen said, watching every move, as if Samantha might attempt to pilfer some valuable asset. The truth was that everything of value was stored in the computersa desktop she used in her space and a laptop she took almost everywhere. A Scully & Pershing laptop. It, too, would remain behind. She could access everything from her personal laptop, but she knew the codes had already been changed.
As if sleepwalking, she cleaned out the drawers and gently tucked away the six miniature skyscrapers from her collection, though she thought about tossing them into the trash can. Izabelle arrived and was given her own personal cardboard box. All othersassociates, secretaries, paralegalshad suddenly found business elsewhere. Protocol had been quickly adoptedwhen someone cleans out a desk, let them do it in peace. No witnesses, no gawking, no hollow farewells.
Izabelle's eyes were puffy and red; she had obviously been in the restroom crying. She whispered, "Call me. Let's have a drink tonight."
"Sure," Samantha said. She finished stuffing it all into the box, her briefcase, and her bulky designer bag, and without looking over her shoulder she marched behind Carmen down the hallway and to the elevators on the forty-eighth floor. As they waited, she refused to look around and absorb it one last time. The door opened and thankfully the elevator was empty. "I'll carry that," Carmen said, pointing to the box, which was already increasing in bulk and weight. "No," Samantha said as she stepped inside. Carmen pushed the button for the lobby. Why, exactly, was she being escorted out of the building? The longer she pondered the question the angrier she became. She wanted to cry and she wanted to lash out, but what she really wanted was to call her mother. The elevator stopped on the forty-third floor and a well-dressed young man stepped in. He was holding an identical cardboard box, with a large bag strapped over his shoulder and a leather briefcase under an arm. He had the same stunned look of fear and confusion. Samantha had seen him in the elevator but never met him. What a firm. So mammoth the associates wore name badges at the dreadful Christmas party. Another security guard in a black suit stepped in behind him, and when everyone was in place Carmen again pressed the button for the lobby. Samantha studied the floor, determined not to speak even if spoken to. On the thirty-ninth floor, the elevator stopped again, and Mr. Kirk Knight got on board while studying his cell phone. Once the door closed, he glanced around, saw the two cardboard boxes, and seemed to gasp as his spine stiffened. Knight was senior partner in Mergers & Acquisitions and a member of the executive committee. Suddenly face-to-face with two of his victims, he swallowed hard and stared at the door. Then he suddenly punched the button for floor number 28.
Samantha was too numb to insult him. The other associate had his eyes closed. When the elevator stopped, Knight hustled off. After the door closed, Samantha remembered the firm leased floors 30 through 65. Why would Knight make a sudden exit onto 28? Who cared?
Carmen walked her through the lobby and out the door onto Broad Street. She offered a meek "I'm sorry," but Samantha did not respond. Laden like a pack mule, she drifted with the foot traffic, going nowhere in particular. Then she remembered the newspaper photos of the Lehman and Bear Stearns employees leaving their office buildings with boxes filled with their stuff, as if the buildings were on fire and they were fleeing for their lives. In one photo, a large color one on the front of the Times's section B, a Lehman trader was caught with tears on her cheeks as she stood helplessly on the sidewalk.
But those photos were old news now and Samantha did not see any cameras. She set the box down at the corner of Broad and Wall and waited for a cab.
In a chic SoHo loft that cost her $2,000 a month, Samantha flung her office crap at the floor and fell onto the sofa. She clutched her cell phone, but waited. She breathed deeply, eyes closed, emotions somewhat in check. She needed her mother's voice and reassurance, but she did not want to sound weak, wounded, and vulnerable.
The relief came from the sudden realization that she had just been freed from a job she despised. Tonight at seven she might be watching a movie or having dinner with friends, not slaving away at the office with the meter running. This Sunday she could leave the city with no thoughts whatsoever about Andy Grubman and the pile of paperwork for his next crucial deal. The FirmFone, a monstrous little gadget that had been glued to her body for three years now, had been surrendered. She felt liberated and wonderfully unburdened.
The fear came from the loss of income and the sudden detour in her career. As a third-year associate, she was earning $180,000 a year in base salary, plus a nice bonus. A lot of money, but life in the city had a way of devouring it. Half evaporated in taxes. She had a savings account, one she halfheartedly acknowledged. When you're twenty-nine, single, and free in the city, in a profession where next year's package will exceed this year's salary plus bonus, why worry too much about saving money? She had a friend from Columbia Law who'd been at S&P for five years, had just made junior partner, and would earn about half a million this year. Samantha had been on that track.
She also had friends who jumped off the treadmill after twelve months and happily fled the awful world of Big Law. One was now a ski instructor in Vermont, a former editor of the Columbia Law Review, a refugee from the bowels of S&P who lived in a cabin by a stream and rarely answered his cell. In just thirteen months he had gone from an ambitious young associate to a mildly deranged idiot who slept at his desk. Just before HR intervened, he cracked up and left the city. Samantha thought of him often, usually with a twinge of jealousy.
Barnes & Noble Review Interview with John Grisham
What is your earliest memory of writing a story?
I wrote a story in college and submitted it to Reader's Digest. They chose not to publish it, and for good reason.
When and where do you write? What does your workspace look like?
I write from roughly 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., more when I'm facing the deadline. Five days a week, with plenty of time off. My office is in an old building just behind our farmhouse. It has no phone, no fax, no Internet, a lot of silence.
Why did you want to write about the Great Recession of 2008 in Gray Mountain?
The story starts with the Great Recession but quickly moves away from it. I was fascinated by the way some of the big firms, both law and banking, treated their bright young stars.
What was your proudest moment as an attorney?
My first murder case. I was 27 years old, defending a really good guy who had killed a really bad guy in self-defense. The jury believed us, and rightfully so. I walked him out of the courtroom, a free man.
There's a popular line from The Rainmaker: "I'm alone and outgunned, scared and inexperienced, but I'm right.? Can recall an early moment in your career, as either a novice lawyer or writer, when you knew that you were right, despite the odds against you?
That's brilliant - are you sure I wrote that? defended a guy in federal court one time on some vague and trumped-up charges. The government had plenty of lawyers and firepower. They ran over us, and the guy went to prison. That stuck with me for a long time.
Do you feel a certain ownership of the legal thriller genre, given how massive it has become in the wake of your success?
None whatsoever. I didn't invent the genre not sure who did but Scott Turow took it to a much higher level with Presumed Innocent in 1987. It's too vast for any one author to claim.
As a baseball fan, what are your favorite memories of the game, either as a spectator or participant? I have no fond memories as a player. I was usually on the bench. I was, and still am, a huge Cardinals fan. During the 1968 World Series, the Cardinals were defending their title against the Tigers. In game one, Bob Gibson was on the mound for the Cardinals. It was an early afternoon game, and my mother called the school and said I needed to come home for some family reason. I sprinted home, got there just in time for the first pitch, in black-and-white. Gibson struck out 17, still a series record. I vividly remember sitting on the floor, in front of the television, in heaven, while my buddies were still in class.
You served for eight years in the Mississippi House of Representatives. What does the average citizen not know about the lives and work of their politicians? What would they be surprised to know about what happens behind the scenes?
A smart guy once said that making laws is a lot like making sausage - you'd be shocked if you watched it. The average citizen does not comprehend (1) the influence of money, (2) the influence of sex, (3) the fear of not getting re-elected, (4) how that fear permeates most of what politicians do, (4) how many laws are actually on the books, (5) how so few of the politicians really understand or actually read those laws, and I could go on and on. Needless to say, I have never missed it.
You recently told the New York Times that you wish someone else would write your next five legal thrillers. While that statement may have been tongue-in-cheek, does it suggest that you're looking to pursue other genres ahead of thrillers these days?
No. I will continue to stray into smaller books - sports, comedy - but I'll never get too far away from the legal thriller.
What do you do to relax?
I took up golf a few years ago, sort of as a new hobby to help me relax. After five years with the game, my blood pressure is up, I'm on anti-depressants, I'm in anger management, I'm drinking more than I should, and I've lost friends. So much for relaxing. Just kidding, for the most part. I play a lot of golf, travel with my wife and family, and take long walks on the farm with nice cigars. On good days, the writing can be relaxing.
Is there a book that you've not written but would like to try your hand at? What haven't you yet done that you want to do as a writer?
There are many great nonfiction stories I would like to pursue, but I doubt I will. The research takes so much time, and I'm just too lazy.
What is the best advice you've received as a writer?
Just after The Firm was published in 1991, a young executive for Waldenbooks (remember them?) casually made the statement: 'The big guys come out every year.' I wanted to be a big guy, so I hustled back to Mississippi and finished The Pelican Brief in 60 days.
October 28, 2014