I went from being amused to being appalled. I discovered on the world wide web a site that contained only lawyer jokes--an abundant supply. What caused the shift was a certain ugly and deprecatory tone in so much of the humor. I know of no other group in our society, highly-sensitized as it is to group disparagement, that is so regularly and casually maligned.
Such feeling is not new. Shakespeare in King Henry VI has the line, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." (I know one lawyer who has this quote neatly framed and prominently place on his office wall. He says it relaxes clients.)
I first thought that so much latent anger against lawyers was due to their involvement in people's lives at ugly times. But, then, I thought that physicians also enter people's lives at hurtful times and receive neither the same volume nor intensity nor disparagement.
Such approbation comes, I believe, because of our ambivalence about the law itself. We humans became civilized when we began to live under the rule of law, when we overcome the need to personally obtain vengeance. Practically, though, our personal encounter of the law makes us see more of the law's deficiencies than its ideals.
The law increasingly creeps into our lives. Tax simplification passed by Congress a number of years ago increased the need for accountants. The fear of terrorism as the result of the explosion of the PanAm flight off New York (actually a mechanical failure), increases the rules around airport security. And so it goes and goes.
Even the lawyers with whom I speak find themselves unhappy with the meshwork of legalism that complicates and constricts lives, hindering rather than facilitating the original goal of the law which is equity. As one person put it, "[law's] history is a sad study in steadily lowered standards, manipulation and mastery by the strong against the weak, the cunning against the simple, and parasites against producers."
If unchecked, the Lone Rangers and Dirty Harrys that we applaud in the movies will increasing fill our home screens at places other than Ruby Ridge and Waco and Oklahoma City. The problem is that we have to pass more laws to overcome the ill-effect of the multitudinous laws we currently have. More laws to create less legal intrusiveness!
And lawyers stand at the center of all this.
--Robert H. Tucker
19 January 1998
The material in this article was not solicited, nor given, by the American Bar Association, nor can the content be attributed to the thoughts of any attorney friend, living or dead.