What happens when a lawyer lets his humanity get in the way of his better judgment, and he ends up falling for the client he is representing in a domestic dispute? That is the question that debut author Brian Cohen writes about in his excellent novel, The life O’Reilly. Nick O’Reilly is a successful attorney working for one of New york City’s largest law firms, doing litigation work for big business clients he knows are corrupt. He’s invested twenty years in the firm Williams Gardner & Schmidt, has become a junior partner in it, and though he has qualms about the clients he represents and their shady business practices, he’s earned enough money to pay for an high-rise apartment view of Central Park.
When he’s selected to be the first of the firm’s lawyers to do Pro Bono work to help the firm’s image with the press, he at first thinks of it as a dubious honor, at best. That’s because he has been told to not let the Pro Bono cases he might take to get in the way of his main, highly lucrative, cases and clients. He finds that this is easier said than done, as he discovers he enjoys helping out people with real problems other than how to evade taxes and cheat stockholders. He begins to sympathize with the client he represents, Dawn Nelson, and her son, Jordan, and their attempts to break away from her abusive husband and begin a new life.
Nick has won many cases over the years for the law firm, but he has often had thoughts of leaving with his one friend there, Evan, to form their own practice specializing in clients in the music industry. One of the other lawyers there, Phil Addison, is a particular thorn in his side, sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong, and criticizing Nick’s decisions and his – to Phil – seeming lack of adequate devotion to the company. Phil feels Nick should spend most of his evenings, nights, and weekends at the firm, working on his cases, and improving the firm’s bottom-line. Nick doesn’t like feeling he’s Phil’s “bitch, ” but often he has to bite his tongue and try to hold back his impulses sometimes to want to punch Phil and knock the obnoxious smirk off of his face.
The situation at Williams Gardner & Schmidt really gets difficult for Nick when a client offers him the use of his box seat to a Mets-Braves game, complete with food and alcohol. Nick doesn’t want to accept the offer, because he doesn’t like the client’s lack of business ethics, but he does, so as to not tick the guy off too badly. However, he asks a group of people in the mailroom whom he knows if they’d like to use the box seat and see the game, and tells them they can bring their families if they want. They end up – according to the client, anyway – trashing the box seat and not cleaning up after themselves. The client is infuriated, because he had only made the offer to Nick, and didn’t want anyone else to use the box seat except Nick and maybe one or two friends of his. William, the head of the firm, calls Nick into his office, where he gets read the Riot Act by both Will and Phil.
On top of this, though it means he’s violated a court order by getting to close to Dawn, Dawn’s husband stalks her and sees her and Nick through the window of where Dawn is staying. He sees them kissing, and Nick falling asleep on the couch with her, where they both stay all the rest of the night. He then declares this in open court, and the judge tells Nick it’s a violation of the ethical code of lawyers, and a hearing is scheduled to determine if Nick’s punishment might include being disbarred.
If the title of the Life O’Reilly seems familiar to you, it shouldn’t be a surprise, as “living the life of Riley, ” is a fairly well known – though somewhat dated – expression for living the good life and always wanting the best. Also, “The Life of Riley, ” was the name of an old television program, which originally starred Jackie Gleason – before he was in “The Honeymooners – as Riley, and then William Bendix took over the role. The late comedian Charles Nelson Reilly, as well, had a one-man Broadway show which was an autobiography of his called “The Life of Reilly. ”
The original expression, though, is about someone who didn’t always have it so good in life, and went through hardships before eventually becoming a success. So it is with Nick, who, though a very successful lawyer, studied long hours to become one, comes from a humble background, and then has to put up with coworkers who are out to get him and the potential end of his career before things get better for him.