Saturday, January 2, 2010

2 / Lawyers And The Law

A law firm advertisement in the most recent edition of California Lawyer magazine contained this promotional copy: "All we do is work. Workplace law." The law firm that had placed this advertisement went on to trumpet the fact that it operates "in four time zones and 42 major locations from coast to coast. With over 600 attorneys, and 100 located in five California offices...."

It struck me that many non-lawyers would not necessarily feel celebratory about the fact that so many lawyers are employed in so many time zones, in only one of the scores of law firms specializing in "workplace law." What that fact means about our society is that employees and employers are pretty much unable to have an unmediated relationship, and that in order to have an employer-employee discussion about anything significant, all discussions have to go through a lawyer (or two lawyers, probably) as intermediaries.

Is this the kind of world we want? Most people would probably say, "no." Shakespeare, in fact, has made famous what is undoubtedly a popular thought about how to make the world a better place: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers..." (Henry VI (Part 2), Act IV, Scene II).

As a lawyer, I do have some personal problems with the prescription from Shakespeare. My obvious personal conflict of interest aside, however, I still pose the question: would "killing all the lawyers" actually make the world a better place? I am inclined to doubt it.

In my view, the world we most immediately inhabit is, in fact, created by human beings, and particularly as we act collectively we create that world through "law."

In the natural world, the "laws" that govern are (like the law of gravity) beyond human control. Such laws, in fact, are "descriptive" of the behaviors they document. A "law" is not a "law" in the world of Nature unless it perfectly describes what always happens, and in fact what "must" happen.

Our human "laws" are not "descriptive" of what must and will happen. They are, quite the contrary, "prescriptive," telling us not what must happen, but what we think ought to happen. That means that we can change the laws that rule "our" world (though we can't change the laws of Nature, upon which our world ultimately depends). Rather than "killing all the lawyers," we need to mobilize a political movement to rewrite the laws (including the laws governing the "workplace") to achieve a better and more just society. Some lawyers, at least, can even help us do that!

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