John Grisham’s ‘The Rooster Bar’ inspired by CU Boulder law professor’s article

University of Colorado Law Professor Paul Campos is pictured in 2012.

University of Colorado Law Professor Paul Campos is pictured in 2012. (Patrick Campbell / The Denver Post)

Bestselling author John Grisham’s latest legal thriller, “The Rooster Bar,” was inspired by University of Colorado Law Professor Paul Campos’s article on for-profit law schools, Grisham said.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Grisham admits Campos’s 2014 article, “The Law-School Scam,” also published in the The Atlantic, was the muse behind his 2017 law student-centered novel.

Grisham’s book details the experiences of three third-year law students, frustrated after taking out massive student loans at a for-profit law school failing at landing the students jobs.

“I didn’t know about it until actually a few days after the book came out,” Campos said.

A journalist from The Chronicle of Higher Education contacted Campos shortly after the end-of-2017 publication of Grisham’s book to see how the professor felt about the homage.

Campos was pleasantly surprised.

“It turned out, [Grisham] had sent me a copy of the book with a nice little letter, but the mail system at CU tends to be rather spotty, so I didn’t actually get it until a couple of days after I heard about it,” he said. “He certainly didn’t talk to me about it, but it was nice, needless to say, to have a story like that featured in a John Grisham novel, which is about 10,000 times more resonant than a standard academic setting.”


Campos’s article was an investigation into the world of for-profit law schools. After being tipped off about the matter and doing some digging, Campos discovered handfuls of American Bar Association-accredited schools were admitting underqualified students taking out hundreds of millions of dollars each year in loans they would likely be unable to repay, to the benefit of the school — some owned by private equity firms.

Although Campos admits he is a bit biased, he said he understands why this situation would catch the eye of a novelist.

“I think there is something inherently compelling about the narrative of the combination of the legal and the academic world and their relation to hot-button issues having to do with exploitation of young people by the system, which is, obviously, a very germaine topic, in general, right now,” he said.

In Grisham’s interview, the novelist said one aspect of Campos’s article that most captured his attention was Grisham’s own ignorance to the topic.

“I think one of the most charming things about Grisham’s statements in regard to the whole issue is the extent to which he admitted he was just basically unaware that any of this was going on,” Campos said. “I think it was material rich for mining.”

When Campos’s article came out, he received a good deal of positive feedback along with “an army of trolls,” he said.

“I think it has been very resonating,” Campos said. “The Grisham thing is a capstone to all that. You never know who you’re going to reach.”

Since Campos’s 2014 article, he’s seen a good deal of progress made in the for-profit law school realm.

One of three law schools discussed in Campos’s piece has since gone out of business, with two others “teetering on the brink,” he said. Campos added that the American Bar Association began more strictly enforcing its accreditation standards, too.

“It’s been the beginning of a real reckoning that has moved through the system in the last two or three years in terms of legal education,” he said.

As far as Campos’s book review, he admits he has yet to read “The Rooster Bar.”

“But I’m looking forward to doing so,” he said.

Elizabeth Hernandez: 303-473-1106,

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