To long time movie, and TV, aficionados the face, voice and characters created by Jack Warden are instantly recognizable. He died yesterday at the age of 85 and you can read several excellent summaries of his life and career that are online today, with the NY Times obituary available here.
So why bring up Jack Warden in a blog that largely discusses the legal and settlement community you might ask. Well, because he played a significant character in what I consider to be the single most realistic and under appreciated legal dramas ever filmed, The Verdict, a 1982 film starring Paul Newman and directed by the great Sydney Lumet. This movie when it was released was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor for Paul Newman, Best Supporting Actor for the late James Mason, Best Director for Sydney Lumet, and Best screen play for David Mamet and the late Barry Reed, the colorful Boston Trial lawyer who wrote the original novel. The character played by Jack Warden was that of Mickey Morrissey, the long suffering mentor and friend to the broken and alcoholic Frank Gavin (Newman) who in the movie brings him a case to dig him out of the hole he has created for himself, after slowly destroying a once promising career at a major trial firm in Boston. It was a slam dunk medical malpractice case, with a horrifically injured client in a permanent vegetative state, warehoused in a nursing facility and hooked to a respirator. The archdiocese that ran the hospital was eager to settle, and Newman at first can't believe his good fortune to get a solid settlement, pay some bills and move on. However, he then goes to actually visit his client, to photograph her, so he can use the pictures to extract a larger settlement from the malpractice insurance carrier. As you watch as Newman's expression changes, and you realize there is a reawakening of his obligation as a trial lawyer, to not just take the easy money, settle the case and move on, but that this young woman, a mother, had had her life destroyed and that she was his client and that was where his duty lay. Against the advice of his friend and mentor Warden, and the wishes of the family of the injured woman, he decides to pursue justice in this case and to risk everything to obtain a measure of justice and to reclaim a bit of himself in the process. As I was living in Boston at the time it was released, and was in the very earliest stages of my career as a settlement professional working with casualty claims departments, I was transfixed to see what is usually the abstract of an injured client, so often just a body, a name, a dollar sign on the insurance company ledger, valiantly represented by a lone trial lawyer who knew deep in his core that this is what his role in life was meant to be, even with all his past failures and frailty.
I won't ruin the ending for those of you who haven't watched it, but to see it again, or to ponder the late Jack Wardens role as the tired old pragmatic trial lawyer, is to remind myself of what helped light the fire in me to forever disavow working for defendants and insurance companies in the claims business, and instead start what is now a 21 year career as an advocate for plaintiffs, claimants and trial lawyers. I think on the plaintiff side of things, we all have those moments like Jack Galvin had in that movie, where we suddenly realize that the claims process, the resolution of cases, the moving of dollar signs and numbers in "the settlement business" all go back to a core issue, and that is that someone has had their life either destroyed or permanently altered as a result of some injury, defective product, chemical, carelessness or malpractice and they are desperately seeking justice. Its not about "us" and how much money is being brought in, but about obtaining justice and helping in some fashion to assist someone or their survivors in putting their life back together in some small measure.
If you haven't seen the movie, I suggest you rent or purchase it. It's brilliant movie making with an all star cast, outstanding writing, cinematography, direction and presentation. You can see Boston, MA as it was 25 years ago, and I am struck by how quickly time has changed both the city and the legal process, with areas of the city in the movie no longer there, smoking, yes smoking allowed in the corridors outside courtrooms, no cell phones, lap tops, and of course the requisite three piece suits we all wore back then when "conducting the practice of law or settling claims". Watch it again, and if you are a trial lawyer, or settlement professional, pay attention to that scene and Newman's expressions, then think about your professional activities and ask yourself if you are in the "business of law" or "the settlement business" or if you are a trial lawyer or in my case an advocate for injured victims desperate for help.