Discussion Guide: Law of the Jungle

1. Based on the early chapters of the book, what were your initial impressions of Steven Donziger as a lawyer, an activist, and an individual? In what ways did those impressions change as the story unfolds?

2. What relevance to the larger story, if any, did you see in recounting the episodes earlier in Donziger’s life: when he sets out as a young journalist to cover the civil war in Nicaragua, represents Cuban-immigrant prisoners, stirs controversy while still a student at Harvard Law School, and organizes a mission to postwar Iraq?

3. How would you describe Donziger's motivations for joining the oil pollution lawsuit against Texaco (later acquired by Chevron)? Do you think his motives and sense of purpose evolved over time?

4. What do you make of the relationship between Cristóbal Bonifaz, the original lead lawyer of the Aguinda suit, and Donziger, the junior attorney who rose to displace Bonifaz?

5. Did the conduct of Texaco in Ecuador from the late 1960s through the early 1990s surprise you? Why or why not?

6. How much culpability do you think Texaco bears for the ecological harm and effect on the health of indigenous tribespeople that accompanied development of oil reserves in the Amazon? What about the Ecuadorian government and their oil company Petroecuador?

7. Did it make sense for Bonifaz and Donziger to sue Texaco (later Chevron) in U.S. courts? Did it seem reasonable or unfair that the U.S. courts ultimately refused to hear the suit and sent it to Ecuador?

8. By his own admission, Donziger adopted a fight-fire-with-fire (or ends-justify-the-means) strategy in battling Chevron in Ecuador. Was he justified in taking this approach? Did his ends, in fact, justify his means? Do you think he could have won the case without crossing ethical lines?

9. Were you convinced that the health problems suffered by the residents of the Oriente region were linked to oil pollution? Is that question even important? Or is it enough that there was extensive pollution accompanied by human suffering to justify legal liability? How would you apportion responsibility for that suffering?

10. Was Chevron justified in turning the tables on Donziger and seeking to make him and his tactics the central issue?

11. Once Chevron lost in the Ecuadorian courts, was the company justified in refusing to pay up? Did the Ecuadorian legal process, as described in Law of the Jungle, strike you as fair? Do you think the U.S. legal system is more fair?

12. Judge Kaplan, the American federal judge, seemed hostile toward Donziger from the outset of Chevron’s attempt to prove Donziger a fraud. Do you think that hostility ought to have disqualified Kaplan from hearing the RICO case against Donziger?

13. What do you think will happen next in this twenty-one-year-old legal war? What do you think ought to happen next?

14. After reading Law of the Jungle, do you feel more or less admiration for lawyers and our legal system? How about big oil companies? And how about human beings in general?

15. How did reading this book make you feel about the ability of governments and the legal system to address wrongs and solve serious problems?