A Civil Action
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Firms like Jan's operate on a contingency basis, often because they represent low income clients. Therefore, when they sign up a client, they must make sure their fees (awarded after trial or in a settlement) cover the cost of the case. Since trials are expensive, especially cases which require medical or scientific experts, and the defense is usually well-funded and trying to delay the proceedings, it is in the best interest of the firm to settle as soon as possible. Often, firms will agree to settle, with the defendant (in this case the Grace and Beatrice companies) admitting no wrongdoing. Here, Jan wanted an admission of guilt from the companies, and pushed for trial when, financially speaking, he should have settled. This exhausted the firm's resources.

Judge Skinner made two decisions that hurt Jan's caseHe bifurcated the trial process. This means that the jury will hear evidence on one issue of two required to establish guilt first. If the jury finds the defendant guilty on that issue, the plaintiff (Jan) can present evidence on the second issue. This is usually done to speed up trials and lower costs. In this case, Jan was required to establish first that the spilled chemicals reached the water supply. He was barred from presenting evidence on the second issue, which was that the poisoning of the well caused leukemia, which would have allowed him to let the families testify. This is something Facher wanted to avoid because the emotional stories of the families could sway a jury confused by the technical testimony.

Judge Skinner also created complex jury instructions that included some difficult questions. This increased the likelihood that the jury would get confused or frustrated.

Jerome Facher is still a practicing attorney, Of Counsel for the firm WilmerHale. The book describes Facher as having some of the same strange behaviors he was portrayed as having in the film, such as carrying an old briefcase, bouncing a ball against a wall, being very thrifty despite his large salary, and seemingly not taking the settlement conference or the complaint seriously. Facher's personality contrasts with the flashy, professional, polished behavior and appearance of Jan. It's not implied that he is deliberately trying to lull Jan into a false sense of security. Rather, he is a crafty, brilliant, experienced trial lawyer at home in the established firm of Hale and Dorr, not having to hustle for clients like Jan and the other plaintiff's lawyers.

An orphan case is one that has been referred and re-referred to different firms. Usually these cases have a low probability of winning, unsympathetic plaintiffs, poor defendants, or are very expensive to try. The Woburn case initially had no defendant, and to prove the case would require expensive medical and scientific testimony.

In fact, the Woburn case was never an orphan. It was given to Jan when he was working at Reed and Mulligan. He took it with him when he left to form his own firm with Conway and Crowley. Conway asked him to drop the case. He didn't champion it.


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