“SAVVY, CRISP PORTRAITS OF LAWYERS ON THE MAKE … WELL-PACED … HARROWING … Grisham’svillains shine, mainly because he has given them dimension and intelligence. … And McDeere isa likable straight arrow who … throws just enough back at his bosses to put us on his side. …Grisham knows his lawyers and hands them their just deserts.”
“ENSNARES THE READER … has the distinct merit of holding up as a thriller for the longhaul.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“The accelerating tempo of paranoia-driven events is WONDERFUL: clandestine meetings, predawnprowlings, a dangerous pursuit … leading to the fine ironic finish.”
—Los Angeles Times
—Upfront: Advance Reviews
“Hallucinatory entertainment … TERRIFICALLY EXCITING … GRIPS AND PROPELS.”
“TRULY EXCEPTIONAL … like a cross between Scott Turow and Mario Puzo, Grisham not only setsup his story well, he sees it through all the way to an unpredictable end.”
“My boyfriend stood on his head and performed other tricks designed to get my attention, but Icouldn’t tear myself away from the last chapter of The Firm long enough to notice. when I was
finally done, he grabbed the book and disappeared for hours. a rare accord … NAIL-BITINGSUSPENSE … terrific characterizations … Mitch and Abby, two entirely believable folks, [are]among the most likable in recent fiction.”
—Louise Bernikow, Cosmopolitan
“A WINNER … positioned to fly off the bookshelves … Grisham, a criminal defense lawyer, hasan eye for the details of his profession. wherever his plot goes, the novel carries theauthenticity of someone who has been there and was paying attention.”
—The Commercial Appeal (Memphis)
“A MEAN-AND-LEAN PAGE-TURNER … Grisham writes without fat: his dialogue crackles.”
“Gripping … unusual and absorbing … READERS WILL BE TOTALLY HOOKED. … Grisham, a criminaldefense attorney, describes law office procedures at the highest levels, smoothly meshing themwith the criminal events of the narrative.”
Table of Contents
Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40 Chapter 41 Other Books By This Author Excerpt from The Confession About the Author
The senior partner studied the résumé for the hundredth time and again found nothing hedisliked about Mitchell Y. McDeere, at least not on paper. He had the brains, the ambition, thegood looks. And he was hungry; with his background, he had to be. He was married, and that wasmandatory. The firm had never hired an unmarried lawyer, and it frowned heavily on divorce, aswell as womanizing and drinking. Drug testing was in the contract. He had a degree inaccounting, passed the CPA exam the first time he took it and wanted to be a tax lawyer, whichof course was a requirement with a tax firm. He was white, and the firm had never hired ablack. They managed this by being secretive and clubbish and never soliciting job applications.Other firms solicited, and hired blacks. This firm recruited, and remained lily white. Plus,the firm was in Memphis, of all places, and the top blacks wanted New York or Washington orChicago. McDeere was a male, and there were no women in the firm. That mistake had been made inthe mid-seventies when they recruited the number one grad from Harvard, who happened to be ashe and a wizard at taxation. She lasted four turbulent years and was killed in a car wreck.
He looked good, on paper. He was their top choice. In fact, for this year there were no otherprospects. The list was very short. It was McDeere or no one.
The managing partner, Royce McKnight, studied a dossier labeled “Mitchell Y.McDeere—Harvard.” An inch thick with small print and a few photographs, it had been preparedby some ex-CIA agents in a private intelligence outfit in Bethesda. They were clients of thefirm and each year did the investigating for no fee. It was easy work, they said, checking outunsuspecting law students. They learned, for instance, that he preferred to leave theNortheast, that he was holding three job offers, two in New York and one in Chicago, and thatthe highest offer was $76,000 and the lowest was $68,000. He was in demand. He had been giventhe opportunity to cheat on a securities exam during his second year. He declined, and made thehighest grade in the class. Two months ago he had been offered cocaine at a law school party.He said no and left when everyone began snorting. He drank an occasional beer, but drinking wasexpensive and he had no money. He owed close to $23,000 in student loans. He was hungry.
Royce McKnight flipped through the dossier and smiled. McDeere was their man.
Lamar Quin was thirty-two and not yet a partner. He had been brought along to look young andact young and project a youthful image for Bendini, Lambert & Locke, which in fact was a youngfirm, since most of the partners retired in their late forties or early fifties with money toburn. He would make partner in this firm. With a six-figure income guaranteed for the rest ofhis life, Lamar could enjoy the twelve-hundred-dollar tailored suits that hung so comfortablyfrom his tall, athletic frame. He strolled nonchalantly across the thousand-dollar-a-day suiteand poured another cup of decaf. He checked his watch. He glanced at the two partners sittingat the small conference table near the windows.
Precisely at two-thirty someone knocked on the door. Lamar looked at the partners, who slid therésumé and dossier into an open briefcase. All three reached for their jackets. Lamar buttonedhis top button and opened the door.
“Mitchell McDeere?” he asked with a huge smile and a hand thrust forward.
“Yes.” They shook hands violently.
“Nice to meet you, Mitchell. I’m Lamar Quin.”
“My pleasure. Please call me Mitch.” He stepped inside and quickly surveyed the spaciousroom.
“Sure, Mitch.” Lamar grabbed his shoulder and led him across the suite, where the partnersintroduced themselves. They were exceedingly warm and cordial. They offered him coffee, thenwater. They sat around a shiny mahogany conference table and exchanged pleasantries. McDeereunbuttoned his coat and crossed his legs. He was now a seasoned veteran in the search ofemployment, and he knew they wanted him. He relaxed. With three job offers from three of the
most prestigious firms in the country, he did not need this interview, this firm. He couldafford to be a little overconfident now. He was there out of curiosity. And he longed forwarmer weather.
Oliver Lambert, the senior partner, leaned forward on his elbows and took control of thepreliminary chitchat. He was glib and engaging with a mellow, almost professional baritone. Atsixty-one, he was the grandfather of the firm and spent most of his time administering andbalancing the enormous egos of some of the richest lawyers in the country. He was thecounselor, the one the younger associates went to with their troubles. Mr. Lambert also handledthe recruiting, and it was his mission to sign Mitchell Y. McDeere.
“Are you tired of interviewing?” asked Oliver Lambert.
“Not really. It’s part of it.”
Yes, yes, they all agreed. Seemed like yesterday they were interviewing and submitting résumésand scared to death they wouldn’t find a job and three years of sweat and torture would bedown the drain. They knew what he was going through, all right.
“May I ask a question?” Mitch asked.
“Why are we interviewing in this hotel room? The other firms interview on campus through theplacement office.”
“Good question.” They all nodded and looked at each other and agreed it was a good question.
“Perhaps I can answer that, Mitch,” said Royce McKnight, the managing partner. “You mustunderstand our firm. We are different, and we take pride in that. We have forty-one lawyers, sowe are small compared with other firms. We don’t hire too many people; about one every otheryear. We offer the highest salary and fringes in the country, and I’m not exaggerating. So weare very selective. We selected you. The letter you received last month was sent after wescreened over two thousand third-year law students at the best schools. Only one letter wassent. We don’t advertise openings and we don’t solicit applications. We keep a low profile,and we do things differently. That’s our explanation.”
“Fair enough. What kind of firm is it?”
“Tax. Some securities, real estate and banking, but eighty percent is tax work. That’s why wewanted to meet you, Mitch. You have an incredibly strong tax background.”
“Why’d you go to Western Kentucky?” asked Oliver Lambert.
“Simple. They offered me a full scholarship to play football. Had it not been for that,college would’ve been impossible.”
“Tell us about your family.”
“Why is that important?”
“It’s very important to us, Mitch,” Royce McKnight said warmly.
They all say that, thought McDeere. “Okay, my father was killed in the coal mines when I wasseven years old. My mother remarried and lives in Florida. I had two brothers. Rusty was killedin Vietnam. I have a brother named Ray McDeere.”
“Where is he?”
“I’m afraid that’s none of your business.” He stared at Royce McKnight and exposed amammoth chip on his shoulder. The dossier said little about Ray.
“I’m sorry,” the managing partner said softly.
“Mitch, our firm is in Memphis,” Lamar said. “Does that bother you?”
“Not at all. I’m not fond of cold weather.”
“Have you ever been to Memphis?”
“We’ll have you down soon. You’ll love it.”
Mitch smiled and nodded and played along. Were these guys serious? How could he consider such asmall firm in such a small town when Wall Street was waiting?
“How are you ranked in your class?” Mr. Lambert asked.
“Top five.” Not top five percent, but top five. That was enough of an answer for all of them.Top five out of three hundred. He could have said number three, a fraction away from numbertwo, and within striking distance of number one. But he didn’t. They came from inferiorschools—Chicago, Columbia and Vanderbilt, as he recalled from a cursory examination ofMartindale-Hubbell’s Legal Directory. He knew they would not dwell on academics.
“Why did you select Harvard?”
“Actually, Harvard selected me. I applied at several schools and was accepted everywhere.Harvard offered more financial assistance. I thought it was the best school. Still do.”
“You’ve done quite well here, Mitch,” Mr. Lambert said, admiring the résumé. The dossier wasin the briefcase, under the table.
“Thank you. I’ve worked hard.”
“You made extremely high grades in your tax and securities courses.”
“That’s where my interest lies.”
“We’ve reviewed your writing sample, and it’s quite impressive.”
“Thank you. I enjoy research.”
They nodded and acknowledged this obvious lie. It was part of the ritual. No law student orlawyer in his right mind enjoyed research, yet, without fail, every prospective associateprofessed a deep love for the library.
“Tell us about your wife,” Royce McKnight said, almost meekly. They braced for anotherreprimand. But it was a standard, nonsacred area explored by every firm.
“Her name is Abby. She has a degree in elementary education from Western Kentucky. Wegraduated one week and got married the next. For the past three years she’s taught at aprivate kindergarten near Boston College.”
“And is the marriage—”
“We’re very happy. We’ve known each other since high school.”
“What position did you play?” asked Lamar, in the direction of less sensitive matters.
“Quarterback. I was heavily recruited until I messed up a knee in my last high school game.Everyone disappeared except Western Kentucky. I played off and on for four years, even startedsome as a junior, but the knee would never hold up.”
“How’d you make straight A’s and play football?”
“I put the books first.”
“I don’t imagine Western Kentucky is much of an academic school,” Lamar blurted with astupid grin, and immediately wished he could take it back. Lambert and McKnight frowned andacknowledged the mistake.
“Sort of like Kansas State,” Mitch replied. They froze, all of them froze, and for a fewseconds stared incredulously at each other. This guy McDeere knew Lamar Quin went to KansasState. He had never met Lamar Quin and had no idea who would appear on behalf of the firm andconduct the interview. Yet, he knew. He had gone to Martindale-Hubbell’s and checked them out.He had read the biographical sketches of all of the forty-one lawyers in the firm, and in asplit second he had recalled that Lamar Quin, just one of the forty-one, had gone to KansasState. Damn, they were impressed.
“I guess that came out wrong,” Lamar apologized.
“No problem.” Mitch smiled warmly. It was forgotten.
Oliver Lambert cleared his throat and decided to get personal again. “Mitch, our firm frownson drinking and chasing women. We’re not a bunch of Holy Rollers, but we put business ahead ofeverything. We keep low profiles and we work very hard. And we make plenty of money.”
“I can live with all that.”
“We reserve the right to test any member of the firm for drug use.”
“I don’t use drugs.”
“Good. What’s your religious affiliation?”
“Good. You’ll find a wide variety in our firm. Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians. It’sreally none of our business, but we like to know. We want stable families. Happy lawyers areproductive lawyers. That’s why we ask these questions.”
Mitch smiled and nodded. He’d heard this before.
The three looked at each other, then at Mitch. This meant they had reached the point in theinterview where the interviewee was supposed to ask one or two intelligent questions. Mitchrecrossed his legs. Money, that was the big question, particularly how it compared to his otheroffers. If it isn’t enough, thought Mitch, then it was nice to meet you fellas. If the pay isattractive, then we can discuss families and marriages and football and churches. But, he knew,like all the other firms they had to shadowbox around the issue until things got awkward and itwas apparent they had discussed everything in the world but money. So, hit them with a softquestion first.
“What type of work will I do initially?”
They nodded and approved of the question. Lambert and McKnight looked at Lamar. This answer washis.
“We have something similar to a two-year apprenticeship, although we don’t call it that.We’ll send you all over the country to tax seminars. Your education is far from over. You’llspend two weeks next winter in Washington at the American Tax Institute. We take great pride inour technical expertise, and the training is continual, for all of us. If you want to pursue amaster’s in taxation, we’ll pay for it. As far as practicing law, it won’t be very excitingfor the first two years. You’ll do a lot of research and generally boring stuff. But you’llbe paid handsomely.”
Lamar looked at Royce McKnight, who eyed Mitch and said, “We’ll discuss the compensation andother benefits when you come to Memphis.”
“I want a ballpark figure or I may not come to Memphis.” He smiled, arrogant but cordial. Hespoke like a man with three job offers.
The partners smiled at each other, and Mr. Lambert spoke first. “Okay. A base salary of eightythousand the first year, plus bonuses. Eighty-five the second year, plus bonuses. A low-interest mortgage so you can buy a home. Two country club memberships. And a new BMW. You pickthe color, of course.”
They focused on his lips, and waited for the wrinkles to form on his cheeks and the teeth tobreak through. He tried to conceal a smile, but it was impossible. He chuckled.
“That’s incredible,” he mumbled. Eighty thousand in Memphis equaled a hundred and twentythousand in New York. Did the man say BMW! His Mazda hatchback had a million miles on it andfor the moment had to be jump-started while he saved for a rebuilt starter.
“Plus a few more fringes we’ll be glad to discuss in Memphis.”
Suddenly he had a strong desire to visit Memphis. Wasn’t it by the river?
The smile vanished and he regained his composure. He looked sternly, importantly at OliverLambert and said, as if he’d forgotten about the money and the home and the BMW, “Tell meabout your firm.”
“Forty-one lawyers. Last year we earned more per lawyer than any firm our size or larger. Thatincludes every big firm in the country. We take only rich clients—corporations, banks andwealthy people who pay our healthy fees and never complain. We’ve developed a specialty ininternational taxation, and it’s both exciting and very profitable. We deal only with peoplewho can pay.”
“How long does it take to make partner?”
“On the average, ten years, and it’s a hard ten years. It’s not unusual for our partners toearn half a million a year, and most retire before they’re fifty. You’ve got to pay yourdues, put in eighty-hour weeks, but it’s worth it when you make partner.”
Lamar leaned forward. “You don’t have to be a partner to earn six figures. I’ve been withthe firm seven years, and went over a hundred thousand four years ago.”
Mitch thought about this for a second and figured by the time he was thirty he could be wellover a hundred thousand, maybe close to two hundred thousand. At the age of thirty!
They watched him carefully and knew exactly what he was calculating.
“What’s an international tax firm doing in Memphis?” he asked.
That brought smiles. Mr. Lambert removed his reading glasses and twirled them. “Now that’s agood question. Mr. Bendini founded the firm in 1944. He had been a tax lawyer in Philadelphiaand had picked up some wealthy clients in the South. He got a wild hair and landed in Memphis.For twenty-five years he hired nothing but tax lawyers, and the firm prospered nicely downthere. None of us are from Memphis, but we have grown to love it. It’s a very pleasant oldSouthern town. By the way, Mr. Bendini died in 1970.”
“How many partners in the firm?”
“Twenty, active. We try to keep a ratio of one partner for each associate. That’s high forthe industry, but we like it. Again, we do things differently.”
“All of our partners are multimillionaires by the age of forty-five,” Royce McKnight said.
“All of them?”
“Yes, sir. We don’t guarantee it, but if you join our firm, put in ten hard years, makepartner and put in ten more years, and you’re not a millionaire at the age of forty-five,you’ll be the first in twenty years.”
“That’s an impressive statistic.”
“It’s an impressive firm, Mitch,” Oliver Lambert said, “and we’re very proud of it. We’rea close-knit fraternity. We’re small and we take care of each other. We don’t have thecutthroat competition the big firms are famous for. We’re very careful whom we hire, and ourgoal is for each new associate to become a partner as soon as possible. Toward that end weinvest an enormous amount of time and money in ourselves, especially our new people. It is arare, extremely rare occasion when a lawyer leaves our firm. It is simply unheard of. We go theextra mile to keep careers on track. We want our people happy. We think it is the mostprofitable way to operate.”
“I have another impressive statistic,” Mr. McKnight added. “Last year, for firms our size orlarger, the average turnover rate among associates was twenty-eight percent. At Bendini,Lambert & Locke, it was zero. Year before, zero. It’s been a long time since a lawyer left ourfirm.”
They watched him carefully to make sure all of this sank in. Each term and each condition ofthe employment was important, but the permanence, the finality of his acceptance overshadowedall other items on the checklist. They explained as best they could, for now. Furtherexplanation would come later.