Thursday, March 06, 2008

"Liberty and Equal Justice for For Wealthy, Powerful, Law School Grads"

"We build no bridges. We raise no towers. We construct no engines. We paint no pictures. But, we smooth out difficulties; we relieve stress; we correct mistakes; we take up other men's burdens by our efforts; we make possible the peaceful life of men in a peaceful state." -- Chesterfield Smith
Could anyone guess the above quotation describes the law profession if they didn't already know? I doubt it.

The legal profession is supposed to "guarantees liberty and equal justice for all" however the tremendous imbalance of power between consumers and lawyers leave the majority of "we the people" at the mercy of lawyers and in need of a second lawyer to protect the consumer from his lawyer and a third...well, you get my point.

Liberated from the workings of the free market the courts are far from consumer friendly and they are designed so that the weakest consumer, with the least amount of financial power or status, are in the weakest position and many times end up victims of our "system of justice". The monopoly lawyers have over our courts, make it impossible for the average person to pursue justice without paying astronomical hourly fees.

The good attorneys, who really want to right wrongs, and place ethics above profit will find it hard to hang in, as greed, which trumped ethics long ago, continues to spread like a fungus throughout the profession we are forced to depend upon to "protect" our rights. Just as fungus, given the right conditions, feeds on organic matter in order to reproduce itself, the legal industry, regulated by their own tribunal and lacking independent oversight, provides the perfect climate for avarice and self-interest to feed on our system of justice, as it is composed of almost nothing but lawyers. This sad state of affairs makes those lawyers who stay true to their ethical duty and professional obligation invaluable or at least worth the hourly rate.

A few posts ago I brought up a friend who is going through a bitter divorce in relation to our welfare laws. Regarding that same case I'm also learning what a racket the legal industry is. This woman who struggled along with her husband to achieve the "American Dream" and raise their three children for almost two decades is a perfect example of someone who, through no choice of her own, was thrown into this lion's den of "justice". One day, her husband, thoroughly convinced of Ayn Rand's genius, after listening to a follower of Objectivism, spout on and on about Rand's selfish philosophy, and although he never read a single sentence she wrote, he decided it was time to live only for himself. He hired an attorney, withdrew his 401K and filed for divorce before she or the children even knew what hit them. Overnight, she plunged from a "soccer mom" standard of living to being trapped in a home with her children, unable to pay the bills, let alone an attorney who charges $300/hour.

Unless she has a rich friend who wants to open his bank account to her, there is not much she can do as she is not entitled to an attorney by law. If you are accused in a criminal case and run the risk of serving time, whether it be ten days or ten years, you have the right to an attorney. Losing your children, your home, your life savings, job etc. does not warrant representation...in other words, there is no right to counsel in a civil case, no matter how disastrous the outcome of the case could be to your life.

Legal does not always mean ethical or that something is right as we have learned over and over again throughout history. The law can be so complicated in and of itself, not to mention the legalese it's written in and spoken, making it impossible to comprehend that common folk don't stand a chance against someone who can afford an attorney. Attorneys and judges can interpret the law in so many different directions it could make a seasoned attorney's head spin let alone someone who barely graduated high school.

These immense gray areas in the way laws are written already allow lawyers and judges to evade ethics and morality for the sake of their client, however when lawyers take that a few steps further and circumvent the law, not for the sake of their client, but for greed, self-interest and cronyism, the law becomes meaningless. Lawyers focus so much on the technicalities of the law, that right and wrong, fair and unfair, many times do not factor in the decisions they make.

For example - in another case I learned about through the case I'm currently observing - a divorce lawyer, knowing that the lack of alimony in his client's case would make her destitute, nevertheless, told the woman the only way he would continue to represent her was if she would agree not to ask for any alimony. This woman, knowing she didn't have a leg to stand on as she had no more money and the attorney fees she already owed were coming out of her portion of the house when it sold, agreed.

Not only did every single penny earned from the sale of her assets go to her lawyer, her wealthy husband earned back any attorney fees he had to pay quickly, continued to receive pay increases, continued to build up his retirement, including 401K match and overall continued to prosper. The woman and her children received very little child support because her ex husband, holding an executive position in his company, was able to hide his true income from the court, knowing his wife did not have the attorney power to investigate, and therefore his child support was calculated on what he chose to submit to the court. This woman, only making minimum wage, ended up in public housing on food stamps, with all her earnings going to pay for her health insurance.

When a prospective client whose legal claim to $600 meant impoverishing a widow and her six children, Abraham Lincoln said, refusing to take the case,
"Some things that are right legally are not right morally, I advise a sprightly, energetic man like you to try your hand at making six hundred dollars in some other way."
“Equal Justice Under Law” sits above the doors of the Supreme Court, however it should read "Equal Justice For Those Who Can Afford to Pay Outrageous Attorney Fees, are Well-Versed in the Law and Powerful Enough to Make Their Lawyer Truly Represent Them" That may sound a bit awkward and wordy but it comes much closer to the truth than the few words that currently welcome people into the Supreme Court.

2 comments:

Anonymous,  00:16  

Second paragraph, first sentence.

Anonymous,  11:46  

This is so true! I just paid my attorney thousands of dollars for something I could have easily resolved myself if it the law wasn't so damned confusing. Then my attorney complicates it even further, making me feel like an idiot when I don't understand. Meanwhile my bill is skyrocketing because I'm trying to understand what doesn't make any sense at all.

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