Lawyer, Indict Thyself | Letters | Chicago Reader

Lawyer, Indict Thyself 

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To the editors:

Patrick Griffin's disillusionment ("The Catcher in the Drain," May 29) is attributed to his legal education and career, but one comes away from his article with the distinct impression that any career which the author had chosen would have resulted in a similar malaise.

If one wishes to find doctors disenchanted with medicine, actors with the stage, bureaucrats or elected officials with government, architects or engineers with their professions, or plumbers with a plumbing career, examples are not too hard to come by. The causes are most often not in the stars, but in themselves. The transition from youthful, unrealistic idealism to self-pity and cynicism is a familiar, empirically verifiable, oft- repeated phenomenon.

Maturity normally brings with it the realization that the evils which beset the world are complicated, cannot be solved by simple nostrums or philosophical formulas, and that the best most of us can do in this life to accomplish humanitarian goals is by working on little pieces, one at a time . . . mostly by doing one's job as well as one can. Maturity means that one realizes the practical limits of human capacity. Maturity also means recognizing that doing good is most often not romantic or glorious, that the rewards are modest, that whatever worldly gain one makes in one's profession, it is the satisfaction of having done something well which is one's greatest reward.

True, many attorneys (like many doctors, many engineers) are unhappy, even more unhappy than they once were. The causes of what is probably a greater measure of discontent than existed in the past are complex, and have in part to do with the changing nature of our society and its effect upon the legal profession. It is not true, however, that the unhappiness stems from discontent with law itself or the legal profession as such.

Much hostility to lawyers comes from the nature of an attorney's role in society; anyone who has thought about it will realize that the public meets lawyers in stress situations and that clients often subconsciously impute the causes of their discontent to their lawyers. Nevertheless, it is also not true that the public unequivocally dislikes lawyers; it cannot be said what sample of the public the author came in contact with, but the esteem and gratitude expressed by numerous clients for many lawyers over long periods belie his conclusion. It may not have been the case with the author, but the reason that many are attracted to law is because it is, not withstanding lamentable exceptions, an honored profession.

The author suggests that too many lawyers exist, notes the contrary evidence that lawyers work 70-hour weeks to handle their business, reports that many lawyers (including himself) have dropped out of the practice, and then concludes that the market does not "work" to limit their number. The author has not explained how to calculate how many are too many, but the number remaining over a period of time by reason of the market is necessarily a better gauge than the author's subjective perception. The United States has more lawyers per capita than other countries because it (a) is more developed and richer, meaning that more people have more property, are more mobile, and generate more transactions, and (b) is a freer and less homogenous society, with relations among its members often governed by agreement and negotiation, rather than custom, administrative and religious bodies, dictatorial fiat, and other such mechanisms which elsewhere govern human behavior. The United States has more lawyers than it used to have, among other reasons, because its legislatures have created such lawyer-essential programs as OSHA, RESPA, ERISA, CERCLA, the Clean Air Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, a complicated tax code, and many complex state and local programs. Any program, no matter what its benefits, has its costs, including the costs of mediating between the public and the government and administering intricate regulatory schemes.

The author's thesis takes no account of what function lawyers play or what substitutes the author might suggest if he could achieve his apparent goal of eliminating them. Not many Americans would like to live in societies which are largely lawyerless, which in practice means that they are theocratic and/or autocratic and/or relatively small, homogenous, and constricted. Even if medical doctors are discontented and even if some part of the public does not hold them in an optimal amount of esteem, it would be rash to suggest that we eliminate or severely reduce their number. Before one thinks of eradicating the legal profession, one ought to contemplate the consequences.

One can feel sorry for those who have made choices which they regret, who are disappointed in their lives, and who perhaps seek solace in attempting to externalize and project their frustrations. They may find succor by seeking professional assistance, admittedly not in the field of jurisprudence.

Jack Joseph

N. Dearborn

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