Alex Miller is the youngest partner at a prestigious New York law firm, and determined to be the firm’s rising star; needless to say, this involves a work week that, while light compared to associate partners’, is heavy by non-legal professionals. Sixty to seventy hours at work is not unusual for him.
The book’s action begins with the death of Alex’s father, from a presumed heart attack; at the funeral, a long-time family friend, Michael Ohlig, approaches Alex to discuss a legal matter, but refuses to divulge the exact nature of this request, as he believes it inappropriate to discuss professional matters at what is, after all, often considered an intensely personal event. Instead, Ohlig arrives at Alex’s office with a proposal that Alex represent him in an impending criminal case against Ohlig’s securities trading company.
Alex takes the case, but as he and Abby Sloane, the one assistant the firm spares him, work through gathering evidence and preparing for the case, Alex’s personal life becomes more closely entwined with his professional as a result of their work. Not only does Alex begin falling in love with his gorgeous clever talented assistant…but he discovers that Ohlig had been having an affair with Alex’s mother, which began prior to the death of Alex’s father. The personal entanglement between Alex and Ohlig tightens when Alex’s mother is found dead on a beach near her home in Florida; the police are inclined to think it was suicide, but there is enough evidence to suggest murder, and Ohlig is the chief suspect. Alex continues defending Ohlig to the best of his abilities, but is more than slightly relieved when that trial ends and Ohlig is arrested in the New York court and extradited to Florida to be put on trial for the murder of Alex’s mother.
Alex testifies in Ohlig’s personal trial, but does not play any further legal part in the proceedings. He believes that the close of that trial ends his involvement with Ohlig, allowing him to return to his work in New York. In the end, there’s something of a twist ending; is it a happy ending? I suppose that depends on which of the characters you sympathize with most.
Overall, this strikes me as dudelit in two parts. The first portion of the book might serve as an introduction to the life of a lawyer in New York and the stresses it places on partners’ and associates’ lives, and a description of the process leading up to a trial and the trial itself. While there are a great deal of subplots involving Alex’s personal life, each of which might serve as the basis for a chicklit novel’s worth of character development and relationship building, the majority of A Conflict of Interest revolves around legal proceedings–Ohlig’s trials and the amount of work Alex puts into his work to the detriment of his home life.
What to read next? Unfortunately, I haven’t read much in the way of legal books, so can’t make a personal recommendation, though John Grisham might be an option for readers who found this a bit slow moving. Scott Turow, particularly his Presumed Innocent, might work as well.