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If you read it anyplace else, it's not Really Legal!
Zick Rubin’s columns on the lighter side of publishing and intellectual property law.
The spate of legal thrillers by lawyers, coupled with the epidemic of O.J. Simpson trial books by other lawyers, has created a serious threat for attorney-authors and their readers: if the present pace continues, the supply of legal catchphrases available for use as book titles will be exhausted by the end of the century.
Literary lawyers have already helped themselves to “The Burden of Proof” (Scott Turow), “The Runaway Jury” (John Grisham), “Undue Influence” (Steve Martini), “Powers of Attorney” (Mimi Lavenda Latt), “Degree of Guilt” (Richard North Patterson), “Hostile Witness” (William Lashner), “Reversible Error” (Robert K. Tanenbaum), “Invasion of Privacy” (Jeremiah Healy), “Legal Tender” (Lisa Scottoline), “Stay of Execution” (William P. Wood), “Criminal Intent” (Michael L. Monhollon), and “Conflicts of Interest” (John Martel), to name a few.
Then there are the first-person O.J. accounts such as “In Contempt” (Christopher Darden), “Reasonable Doubts” (Alan M. Dershowitz), “The Search for Justice” (Robert L. Shapiro), “Journey to Justice” (Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.), and the undoubtedly upcoming “Judging for Justice” (By Judge Ito), “Docketing for Justice” (by the court clerk), and “Justice, My Eye” (by the court camera operator).
Once the legalese runs out, the thrillers will be stopped in their tracks and the remaining 213 O.J. lawyers will have to go back to foreclosing on mortgages. We must protect the reading public before it is too late. What follows is a new listing of authentic legal terms suitable for use as titles, with suggested plot summaries, to help avert the crisis.
CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE. Faced with the allegation that the surgeon has amputated the wrong leg, the hospital’s seductive but hard-boiled defense counsel contends that it was the patient’s own fault for lying on the wrong end of the operating table.
DISCHARGEABLE DEBTS. The tempestuous founder of a failed bagel chain and her ruggedly built, devil-may-care bankruptcy lawyer blow her last millions on a weekend on the Rivera. On Monday they fly back on the Concorde and file under Chapter 7.
PEREMPTORY CHALLENGE. O.J.’s jury consultant speaks out for the first time on the defense team’s successful jury selection strategy, which actually was not based on race but rather on excluding all Leos, Scorpios, ectomorphs, and people carrying laptops.
REVERSE CONFUSION. An ambitious conceptual artist paints a literal rendition of a ketchup bottle, then sues the ketchup company for trying to cash in on his fame by continuing to use the same label to sell ketchup.
UNDISCLOSED PRINCIPAL. A dapper but ethically challenged super-agent negotiates a mega-contract for a roman a clef by an anonymous insider in the Dole campaign – “someone with a really big name.” When the author turns out to be a total unknown named Constantine Chevapravatdumrong, the publisher threatens to sue.
LIMITED LIABILITY. O.J.’s corporate lawyer speaks out for the first time, dropping the bombshell that under California law only O.J.’s corporation, Orenthal Productions, Inc., and not O.J. himself could be held responsible for the killings.
THE TENTH AMENDMENT. A gorgeous but insecure associate at a prestige-drenched Wall Street law firm revises her insignificant procedural motion one more time.
ADVERSE POSSESSION. An Upper East Side landlord tries to evict a family of ten that has camped out in one of his apartments. All hell breaks loose when a crusty Legal Aid lawyer argues that the family has actually occupied the butler’s quarters for 21 years and no one ever noticed.
RIGHTS OF PUBLICITY. O.J.’s intellectual property lawyer speaks out for the first time on his unrelenting efforts to collect licensing fees for O.J. trading cards, Halloween masks, gloves, and cutlery.
RES IPSA LOQUITUR. Whiz kid Lorna Larrimore emerges from the Harvard Law Review and a Supreme Court clerkship without ever stopping to learn Latin. When in her very first court appearance her adversary surprises with the doctrine of expressio unus est exclusio alterius, Larrimore has to do some very fast thinking.
CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES. A Great Neck homemaker faithfully follows a gourmet chat line recipe for chowder. When her husband chokes on a clam he is rushed to the hospital in an ambulance which slams into an oil truck, causing a devastating spill on the Long Island Turnpike. In the dramatic courtroom confrontation, the State of New York faces off against the Internet service provider.
DUTY TO DEFEND. O.J.’s insurance lawyer speaks out for the first time on his theory of coverage: because the killings made “O.J.” a household word, his defense costs are covered under O.J.’s business liability policy as “caused by an offense committed in the course of advertising.”
SCOPE OF EMPLOYMENT. Is martial arts master Stanley Penfield an employee of KarateTown, or is he just a freelancer who has settled in at the dojo? More than a pressure point knockout turns in the balance, including whether or not Penfield will be allowed to enroll in the company’s 401(k) plan.
CHOICE OF FORUM. A beautiful but naïve management consultant discovers that her contract with a multinational pet food giant provides that all disputes must be adjudicated in the Kingdom of Tonga. The legal hijinks reach their high point with a no-holds-barred deposition conducted in a sea kayak during Vava’u Festival Week.
PRINCIPAL PLACE OF BUSINESS. O.J.’s tax lawyer speaks out for the first time on O.J.’s year-long struggle with the IRS to take the upkeep costs of his jail cell as a home office deduction.
Copyright © 1997 by Zick Rubin