The word civil carries a lot of weight. The usage needs to be carefully considered when it’s entered into a sentence or a phrase. Civil means a wide variation of things. It can be defined as a way to be observant of the forms required for good breeding. It can also be a means to the needs and affairs of the general public. However, the latter of the two definitions can also be stretched to include a definition of the private rights and the remedies sought by action or suit.
The point is that the word civil has a greater meaning that has been embraced by our American legal culture. It is the premise that law is there to serve the people and the lawyers are nothing more than mere guardians of law. These are thoughts that were considered during the class viewing of A Civil Action. In the proceedings of the case, there were many concerns that were brought up about our legal culture. For example, was the quest for money so great that it clouds the goals of the case? If the testimonies were that technical, was it fair for the Judge to cut the trial at the point he did, with the questions he wrote? This does not even include the degrees of separation that exist from the true story. Is what was depicted by speakers and the movie and accurate representation of the case? However, the most important question is whether or not the actions of the head counsel were done for the public good or in for the lust for money.
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The movie itself does raise a lot of questions. One of the more intriguing, is if the drive of Jan Schlichtmann is money or duty? The movie’s viewpoint is clear. Travolta’s character begins with a very lucrative malpractice law firm. He continues to provide the court and his opponents with those little tricks that enable him to bring home the money. However, is it always possible to maintain such a level of superficiality? In the beginning of the movie, Schlichtmann tells Anne Anderson that the money from the deep pockets of the companies will be the apology that they are looking for. He gives no concern to their feelings and continues to proceed with the trail trying to get the large lump sum of money. It was when he told her that money would be all the forgiveness she would need a great injustice was done not only to Anne Anderson, but to the legal culture.
It was at this moment Schlichtmann was no longer a guardian of law. To begin with, a civil action is action for the public good. Fiscal compensation for those who suffered is not a public good. However, if you can ensure that such violations never occur again that is a public good. That would be a civil action to help the general public and ensure their rights in law and in providing a healthly environment. In addition, Jan should have taken the opportunity in the meetings with Anne Anderson to explain to her how money would have been the apology she was looking for.
To begin with, an explanation of what type of an apology she was going to get was in order. It should have been made clear, by Jan, that there was going to be no verbal communication of an apology from W.R. Grace and Beatrice. If there was an apology both companies would be openly admitting that they were at fault and inviting thousands of other suits. Also, it was Jan’s duty as a lawyer to convey to his clients that an apology in the form of money is sufficient and efficient. Companies don’t want to lose money and therefore it serves as an apology and a punishment.
If Anne Anderson was searching for someone to take the blame and clean up the mess, it was also the responsibility of her counsel to explain that Courts usually order someone to clean up whether its them or the Courts. In the end, companies definitely are not big fans of negative publicity either. The families should have been made aware that seeking money from the companies was the only way to make them realize what they did was wrong and to ensure such an act never happens again. In the long run, the movie portrayed the profession of lawyers as greedy and self-serving people. It is this portrayal that seems to have the largest effect on American legal culture. Is this how the world views the law profession? Is this how the guardians of the law that protect my rights do their job? If the fuel for justice the dollar bill or is it the satisfaction that a public good has been accomplished? At the end of the movie, Jan has lost his partners, his car, his house, his staff, his office and his practice.
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He has also lost the case. He was unable to provide for the large cash settlement he and his ego thought he would have undoubtedly received. However, Jan will not give up. He discovers small little details in the case and passes it on to the EPA with a very nicely written letter explaining the importance of justice and this case for the people of Woburn. At first glance, the letter seems to be a very nicely written apology not only for his failure to the families, but to the law profession for his unneeded greed. After a second glance, the letter could have simply served as his ticket to ensure that this case would be followed up and his name cleared and ego re-inflated.
If you follow the initial motives for him to pick up the case you can see similar motives in him wanting to be justified by closing the case. In the end, it wasn’t about the money or the justice it was about the ego. It was about proving that he was right. Jan Schlichtmann wanted to prove that he was the victor in the end. American legal culture has suffered many blows, but this portrayal of a lawyer is quite disheartening. Jan seems to be selfish, and egotistical. There is no sincere apologies made to the families for the failure of the system on their behalf.
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The movie itself is a fairly accurate description of the case, but in the case are the actions of Jan, the role model, the law profession should be putting forth? Were the actions of Jan providing the world with the reassurance that the system is working for them and that they can seek justice in the system. Does the role model in this movie increase the trust of the public in their guardians? Where are the role models in American legal culture?