Over bourbon and chablis this holiday season, there will be a greek chorus of warnings about how gifted men fall so far. That will be put in play by the new book "Kings of Torts," a deconstruction of the ascent and crash of good ole boy and plaintiff attorney Dickie Scruggs. Its unique insights come from two authors - Alan Lange and Tom Dawson - also based in Mississippi, where Scruggs ruled.
This account counterbalances the history of the activist law published by conservatives such as Walter Olson of the Manhattan Institute. In books such as "The Rule of Lawyers" and "The Litigation Explosion," Olson seems to ignore the contributions of plaintiff lawyers to the legal system. Scruggs, as Lange and Dawson point out, pioneered breakthroughs. For example, he brought the class action lawsuit mainstream, made it possible to file suits in state rather than primarily federal jurisdiction, nurtured the care and protection of whistleblowers, and made workplace safety a legal matter.
Of course, all that, just like every other human entity, can be abused. They were. And that happened also as a result of the dark side of Scruggs which emerged. Lange and Dawson point to the downfall as the result of inherent evil. Ironically, according to them, Scruggs and his merry band let loose their evil because they "convinced themselves that the opponent was evil incarnate and the ends justified the means."
The value this overview of Scruggs and his era adds to the history of litigation in America is that it can be used by current reformers to hedge their arrogance and earnestness with respect for their own possible myopia. There's a paradigm shift in progress in the business and profession of law, the limits of populism, and how to define success. Every law student, lawyer, policy maker, and parent should have a copy of "Kings of Torts."