Let’s Not Kill All the Lawyers

Shakespeare wrote, “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” It is a tempting proposal. But it has problems. If we killed all the lawyers, you know what would happen next? There would be some fools who’d see a job opportunity, hang out a shingle that said, “Attorney at law,” and we’d have to kill them too.

As I think about it, maybe we should give it a try. We’d get rid of the lawyers and a lot of other idiots at the same time.

But I know it wouldn’t really accomplish much. The shrewd ones, in this new World Without Lawyers, wouldn’t call themselves lawyers. They’d call themselves counselors or consultants. Whatever the name, there would be a whole new crop of people greasing the wheels, dividing the pie, and collecting a fee. There’s really no way around it.

So I have a better idea. Let’s let the attorneys live, but make life miserable for them. It would be pretty easy, actually. We’d just need to deregulate the legal profession.

This doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s how it works. Today, the only way you can become a lawyer is to spend a fortune going to law school, pass an incredibly difficult bar exam, and learn a lot of rules that defy common sense.

Oh, and you have to pass an ethics examination to prove that you’re honest.

Instead, here’s what we do: we tell the state government that we want a freer choice of people who can represent us. So the next time we’ve got a $500 issue with a mechanic who screws up our car, we don’t have to pay $2,500 to get someone to represent our interests in court. We can call up the Legal Help office at our church or Walmart, give them our credit card number, and get the thing off our minds for a fraction of the price.

But doesn’t this make life difficult for the mechanic who’d rather spend his day working on cars than responding to complaints? Maybe. If the mechanic is getting that many complaints, maybe it’s not a bad idea to keep him from doing any more damage. But otherwise, this would help most mechanics. Right now, they have to hire a lawyer whenever a customer hires one. It is a huge expense, especially for people who are trying to start the little car repair businesses that compete against mainline auto shops. And once you’ve hired a lawyer, the case takes off. It grows a mind of its own. For small businesses, lawyers and lawsuits can be the kiss of death.

Also, if you’ve ever been in a lawsuit, you know that the law teaches you that you really have to beef up your case, looking for every bad thing the other guy might possibly have done to you. The things you allege make the other side angry. They retaliate with their own crazy complaints. Everybody gets madder. Then they have to sit there and stew, because it’s never a same-day, let’s­ get-this-settled kind of thing. It can take months, even years. Finally, at long last, there is no chance to tell your story and let the truth come out, because now you have learned how expensive that would be. Instead, the case gets settled out of court. All that hassle and anxiety, and you may achieve nothing except to force the other side to be just a bit less than completely unreasonable — at a cost typically running into the thousands of dollars. It’s a miracle if anyone is happy with the outcome, other than the lawyers.

So why not try a calmer and more efficient approach? Let the customer and the mechanic hire bright college graduates who want to learn how to handle real-life situations. You’ve got a kid who would be grateful for an intelligent job that offers practical experience and $30,000 a year. Instead of being expensive, unavailable, and impossible to understand, this kid gets a start in life, in a career that’s partly legal and partly public relations. The mechanic and the irritated customer can get the thing sorted out and go on with their lives. We create a half-million new jobs. And the lawyers, for a change, are the ones who are pissed off. I tell you, it’s perfect!

But how about the rich people — doesn’t this put them at risk? If any old Joe can sue them, how are they going to stay rich and maintain control over our lives? The answer is, the rich just keep on getting richer. They’ll still hire the best attorneys, and they’ll still win the big lawsuits. In fact, what I’m proposing would be good for them. It would give us ordinary people a chance to get our lives in order and accumulate a bit of financial security. That way, in a couple of years, we’ll have more for the rich people to take.

I can almost hear someone saying that this would throw the courts into chaos. The thought makes me laugh. Anybody been to court recently? I, myself, just got out of the courthouse. It literally took two years for the judge to grasp something that I could have explained in five minutes, if I’d been able to get him to wake up and pay attention.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not just any old crank. I’m a special kind of crank; in fact, I used to be a lawyer myself. I’ve practiced law. I’ve worked in law firm management. I’ve worked in a law office in the government. I’ve hired lawyers. I’ve sued lawyers. I’ve even published a book about lawyers.

It would help this country enormously if we had a choice that didn’t involve (a) hiring lawyers or (b) living with complete injustice. It would help the legal profession. Ultimately, a law degree should not make its holder a glorified thief. Law should be a noble calling, like the ministry: a profession for wise people and leaders of society. Otherwise, you get our present situation, where the public is grossly abused, the technical details of procedure become more important than the real issues, and nothing gets done right.

So the next time you get mad at a lawyer, stop and think about it. You don’t have to get mad. You don’t even have to get even. With a relatively simple change in state law, you could just go merrily on your way and, with luck, you might never have to deal with a lawyer again.

(This is a revision of an article I wrote on 6/16/1995.)

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