The Money Lawyers: The No-Holds-Barred World of Today's Richest and Most Powerful Lawyers

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The Money Lawyers: The No-Holds-Barred World of Today's Richest and Most Powerful Lawyers by Joseph C. Goulden Truman Talley Books * 2005 * 396 pages * $27.95

Reviewed by Martin Morse Wooster

In good times or bad, whether Republicans or Democrats are in power, trial lawyers are up to no good. But who are these people? What sort of lawyer would devote his life to making millions from class-action suits?

Joseph C. Goulden's The Money Lawyers is an excellent guide to the lives and ideas of the megalawyers who wage war against American corporations. Goulden is an experienced author who is best known for The Superlawyers, a 1972 bestseller that showed what life was like inside major law firms.

Goulden, who describes himself as a "quasi libertarian," is a fair-minded writer and persuaded several trial lawyers to talk to him. Chapters in this book include profiles of Washington insider Tommy Boggs, Microsoftbasher David Boies, and securities lawyers William Lerach and MelvynWeiss.

Two of Goulden's chapters, however, are about two of the most notorious class-action suits of the 1990s: breast implants and the diet-drug combination "fenphen." Here Goulden shows why class-action suits don't solve the problems they are meant to correct.

In the breast-implants case, lawyers could show that the companies that made silicone-based implants tried to make the membranes as thin as possible in order to make sure that the implants were as life-like as possible. Because these membranes were thin, they leaked 4-6 percent of the time. Dow Corning, the major manufacturer, was understandably reluctant to reveal this; a 1975 memo from a Dow Corning salesman noted, "I don't know who is responsible for this decision [to sell leaky implants], but it has to be right up there with the Pinto gas tank."

But no one was able to show that the leaked silicone harmed women. That didn't stop trial lawyers from raking in millions by persuading juries that the women they represented had illnesses caused by silicone. Trial lawyers also had allies, such as Dr. Sidney Wolfe, head of the Nader-founded Public Citizen and a relentless advocate for bigger government. Journalists also used the "evidence" gathered by class-action lawyers as a basis for sensational stories; most notoriously, Connie Chung charged in 1990 that silicone was "an ooze of slimy gelatin that could be poisoning women."

Goulden sees trial lawyers as having a better record in the fen-phen case, as plaintiffs were able to show that taking fenfluramine and phentermine for long periods did substantially increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. …