It has long been argued that plaintiffs' lawyers can and should flourish when regulators fail, operating as sort of a backstop for the interests of the public. A lawyer tells The Economist this week in "Shark Attack" that that is exactly what's happening in the present climate of litigation in corporate mergers -- that lawyers do what the regulators would if they weren’t so understaffed. But the tone of the piece, as its title suggests, is skeptical. True or not, the piece is likely to be remembered for reminding us about this Kurt Vonnegut quip from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater:
In every big transaction, there is a magic moment during which a man has surrendered a treasure, and during which the man who is due to receive it has not yet done so. An alert lawyer will make the moment his own, possessing the treasure for a magic microsecond, taking a little of it, passing it on.
The Economist couldn't resist a dig: "Like so many novelists, he was talking bosh. No alert lawyer takes only 'a little'."
And Prof. Brian Quinn at M&A Law Prof Blog says the Economist missed the best part of Vonnegut's humor:
If the man who is to receive the treasure is unused to wealth, has an inferiority complex and shapeless feelings of guilt, as most people do, the lawyer can often take as much as half the bundle, and still receive the recipient’s blubbering thanks.
God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut. It's not true, it's not fair, but it's very, very funny.
Art: Vonnegut self portrait.