….It exists in the tiniest little hamlets on the
Hawaiian Islands to the islands off of
Maine, and is found in every city and town in between.
I call it the Anti-Lawyer Revolution and I know it intimately. As a lawyer who has coached pro-se litigants since his days in law school, I have been listening to grievances about my profession for over 20 years. I rarely thought about one of my own grievances.
As a child burned in a boating accident at age 8, I was about to enter college when the case settled nine years later. My brilliant and aggressive lawyer got me a settlement of about $1,100 after he took his cut. We did not consider it a big deal then one way or another then. Now I recognize it as lawyer sloth.
I still remember the excruciating pain when my doctor took a scissors and literally cut burnt flesh off my foot. I missed summer camp that year and had to put a plastic bag over my left foot when I went swimming that season. I had a scar for at least 7 or 8 years, and slight discoloration still remains there. I guess my lawyer really did not have his heart in my case. I never met him until after the case was over. His Democratic Party connections were strong, though, and in the last three decades of his life he has been known as “Your Honor.”
Now “I’m one, too.” I sincerely hope I do not share too much in the flaws that Americans invariably attribute to lawyers they don’t like.
Lawyers are said to make promises they don’t keep. “I’ll get you a million dollars for that sour orange juice you drank!”
Lawyers are said to not return phone calls for days. Not an enjoyable experience.
Lawyers are said to overcharge, to make deals behind their clients back and to be lazy, incompetent and timid. Without equivocation, these traits are found in some lawyers.
Every year, lawyers are suspended from practice for lying under oath, misappropriation of client funds, fraud and occasionally even crimes of violence. The profession often does police itself when it comes to serious, provable offenses. But much of the evil that some lawyers do is not traceable.
Conversations held in secret, deals made in distress because one lawyer has missed a deadline, betrayal of client confidences, lying to cover up mistakes, inventing evidence, promotion of perjury, bribing witnesses…it happens from time to time.
American dissatisfaction with lawyers is creating a political sub-culture that has spilled over into mainstream politics. Republicans probably would not be railing against John Edwards as a “trial lawyer” unless their pollsters told them it would sell.
The deeper cause Americans have to be dissatisfied with lawyers is the participation of large numbers of the profession in an economy that has been over regulated by lawyers by the bureaucracies and legislatures that enforce over eight million laws at the state, county, federal and municipal level that have been written by lawyers, enforced by lawyers, judged by lawyers and whose existence benefits lawyers. A ten-thousand page tax code, a several inches thick volume of securities regulations that make it un-affordable for most entrepreneurs to ever legally sell a share of stock to an investor, land use laws, laws about milk and eggs, laws about mattress stuffing, laws about paint disposal, and laws about trucks. You name it; lawyers regulate it and cash in on the regulation, whether it is getting paid to write the law, getting paid to judge the case, getting paid by a client to interpret the law, or getting paid to enforce the law. A society so regulated now spends forty percent of its gross national product on government. No wonder the Chinese are clobbering us.
Some Americans are quite determined to fight back, seeing lawyers as unelected privileged elite.
Wisconsin, a new political movement has been born which articulates the growing resentment. The group calls itself the Anti-Lawyer Party and has a very distinct theme. “Don’t Vote For Lawyers!” The party’s on line brochure describes lawyers as “the unconstitutional ruling class” and says the profession is “totally crooked.”
Musician Barry Weinstein, a student of pro-se litigation methods and a veteran of a still simmering domestic relations battle that has spilled over into a federal civil rights suit, would agree.
Mr. Weinstein recently filed a lawsuit against Johns Kerry and Edwards in a
New Jersey state court under the constitution of that state. Weinstein tried arguing that under separation of powers doctrines, lawyers, as officers of the court are members of the judiciary and hence barred from serving in the Executive Branch. Weinstein’s efforts to bar Kerry and Edwards from the
New Jersey ballot did not succeed. Lawyers from the campaign showed up to oppose his suit, convincing the judge that it was a federal matter.
But Mr. Weinstein’s antipathy to lawyers as government executives is shared by activists in other states.
In March of 2000 the
Connecticut took a poll which discovered that Americans have a strong distrust of the legal system, including not only defense attorneys but also police and judges.
Of particular interest is a belief by 51% of those surveyed who believe that judges favor the wealthy. Noted Dick De Gorin, a
Texas defense lawyer “The public believes that justice is for sale.”
But the very role of lawyers in the hassles of one’s life heightens their unpopularity.
When you are named as a lawsuit defendant, usually there is a lawyer on the other side doing it to you.
If you are foreclosed on or evicted, usually a lawyer is going to be the most visible adversary.
If you are prosecuted for a crime, a lawyer is doing it to you.
And when you need justice, you must pay a lawyer. If you lose, the bearer of bad news is a lawyer.
People want other ways of coping with problems than lawyers. Do it yourself will and trust software kits are big sellers at Staples and Comp
USA. Legal self help sites like the author’s own citizensjustice.com get plenty of traffic.
And the majority of visitors to many courts are unrepresented litigants. Being your own lawyer in anything beyond a small claims case requires some reading and study, and can be very complicated.
But dependency on lawyers can bring disaster if the wrong lawyer is selected. As in any business, the legal profession has its share of flakes, substance abusers, crooks and “layabouts” who take a lot of money and deliver little.
But it also has dedicated, hard working, sincere advocates who can be the best allies you’ll ever have. As disappointed as the public is with the profession, the public appreciates the work of skilled advocates like Johnny Cochran, Gerry Spence and F. Lee Bailey who anyone would want as their lawyer.
There is no solution to this problem. As long as there exist courts, with complex rules and complex laws, people will need advocates. But it is the responsibility of concerned and responsible citizens to monitor abuses in the system and to strongly demand changes when our system of justice is not delivering.
The most important step would be to make all laws and procedures so user friendly that lawyers would be superfluous. But to get to that point, we’d have to overcome the lawyer lobby.
The closest analogy is when accountants came to
Washington to lobby against changing the income tax to a national sales tax.
But sooner or later the laws will change. The frustration and anger the public feels towards the legal profession is too strong for the status quo to remain.