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Juristic Park


Over the July 4th weekend "The Firm" replaced "Jurassic Park" as the largest grossing movie in America, thus proving what everyone already suspected: Lawyers are a lot scarier than dinosaurs.

IT HAD started as an impossible dream. Everyone told Ben he was crazy.

"How are you going to get genes from lawyers," they said. "You can't even get lawyers on the phone."

"It's too dangerous," they warned him. "Invasion of privacy, patents on the DNA, impersonating an officer of the court. They'll subpoena you. They'll serve you writs. They'll sue you six ways from Sunday and steal your house. And your own attorneys will bill you blind."

But Ben was stubborn. He had a vision: a theme park to surpass all theme parks. The most frightening attraction anyone had ever created. He would fill it, not with lions or crocodiles or even dinosaurs, but with something much more terrifying.

In a stroke of genius, he finessed the problem of informed consent. He paid the in-house barbers at the big law firms to give him their sweepings.

Then he moved offshore with the purloined hair, out of reach of the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. His technicians extracted DNA from the hair.

That left the problem of host eggs.

His own lawyers told him to rule out Homo Sapiens. (Human rights: an entrepreneur's nightmare.)

So Ben had his naturalists look for something biologically similar to lawyers -- cold-blooded, avaricious, ruthless. He considered great white sharks and giant squid, but they'd been done.

In the end, he inserted enhanced lawyer DNA into hagfish egg cells.

The hagfish is a pale, primitive, snakelike creature that bores into the bodies of its victims and devours their innards. It is sometimes found inside the corpses of drowning victims and sometimes known as a slime eel. A perfect match.

With hormones and trust funds, Ben and his biotechs masterminded an accelerated growth and academic program. Harvard Law. Yale Law. His clones were everywhere. The rejects he farmed out to the Wall Street firms. They were in great demand.

But the best specimens hopped a jet for the island. Ben's island.

That's where I came in. I was hired to look over the park for safety flaws. I saw at once that Ben had gone too far. Oh, the Capital Punishment Carousel was OK. (You couldn't get off until the Supreme Clones heard your appeal; one visitor had come on opening day and was still on it.)

The Corporate Carnivores section was a huge draw, particularly at feeding time. Every afternoon they would throw a small company in for the big guys. Kids loved to watch them strip it bare. And everybody loved the Palimony Pagoda.

Even I had fun. They had great hot dogs at the People's Court. (Judge Wapner was one of the few to participate voluntarily.) But I started to worry when I saw the big-name clones.

A very convincing version of the defense lawyer Bruce Cutler was sitting at a table in the Cafe Gotti wearing a $12,000 suit

and shoes that had obviously never been walked in.

As the tourists passed by he -- it? -- would whisper hoarsely: "John Gotti is a gentleman who was unjustly railroaded. And he knows your name."

The William Kunstler clone, his glasses on his forehead, was holding a perpetual press conference in the Court of Public Opinion. And an ersatz Alan Dershowitz, hair on permanent alert, accompanied by 12 law students and his agent, held forth at Injunction Junction.

By then I knew it was doomed.

Close it down, my report would say. You can't control lawyers. Sooner or later they'll find a loophole. A technicality. An escape clause. And then they'll be loose.

Ben rejected my conclusions out of hand. I packed my bags and got ready to leave. I made one final stop at the Personal Injury pen. These were the clones that seemed closest to their slime eel antecedents. I had flagged them as a likely source of trouble.

I was watching one particularly odious character slick back his hair when I heard a thud behind me. A woman had fallen. She was probably in her late 50s. She seemed to have slipped on a loose paving stone and was on the ground, moaning, holding her hip.

At first all I heard was the click, click, click of laptops and calculators computing Ben's net worth. Then a sound rose like the roar of a tidal wave: Contingency! Down came the fence.

The clones were all over her in a flash, handing her their cards, shouting "Let her breathe! Give her room!" and shoving their colleagues away so they could get close to her.

Security arrived and fired on the crowd. That aroused Kunstler, who burst through a restraining order and charged the television crews, announcing that he was filing a class action suit on behalf of slime eels, under the Law of the Sea.

When the DAs smelled blood, they brought on the Capital Punishment bunch. The Civil Rights clones blocked their way. Then the power failed for just a second and the park defenses shut down. Dershowitz got loose. The crowd panicked.

So did I. I ran for the docks and leaped onto a boat headed for the mainland.

Before the day was out, Dershowitz had logged a cool billion in civil suits against Ben. Book and film rights had been sold and the clones were leaving the island.

In droves.

Rumor has it that they've reached our shores. They fit right in.

James Gorman is author of "The Man With No Endorphins."

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