Do lawyers suck?

Sat Jan 8 15:37:29 PST 2000

In a message dated 00-01-08 15:30:20 EST, Nathan writes:

<< n theoretic economic terms, the law is a "transaction cost" - a dead-loss


>that we try to minimize but a waste by its inherent nature. People


>have that sense and have honest suspicions of those who engage in that


>even if they protest that by good performance of their job, they reduce those

>inevitable transaction costs. >>

I hadn't noticed this particularly inane comment, and since it is relevant to some work on the rule of law that I am doing, I thought I'd comment. 'First, not all transactions costs are waste. Waste is unnecessary and avoiadable expenditure of scarce resource that does not benefit anyone, or benefits far fewer than it harms. Since in the real world all transactions are costly, transactions costs are not all wasteful. It's only the unnecessary ones that are wasteful.

Second, in any complex society, or any social arrangement too complex to run on pure trust, dealings with strangers (and even people you know) have to be done according to rules. These rules must be enforceable to be meaningful, and that means there must be laws. But laws are inherently ambigi\uous--even when clear in themselves, there are new situations to which it's not clear how they apply, and there are situations where someone who is or will be affected by them, or might be affected by them, wants to know what they say.

Since the laws are not self-interpreting and because it would be a real pain in the butt for the people who decide these disputes, including judges, to have to deal with people who are dealing with the laws for the first time on every occasion and who do not know what the lay of the land is, we need professionals who have studied these rules and are familiar with them to advise the parties and the judges. That is, we need lawyers

The long and short of it is not that law and lawyers are not a dead weight loss, utterly unnecessary parasitism that ordinary people intuitively know is mere rent-taking and robbery. It is absolutely necessary for any society larger than a tribal unit or a collection of tribes.

I am sorry that Nathan has gotten no more that flat-headed good-ol' Amurrricn anti-gummint and anti-lawyer attitudes out of his time in law school, too bad, too, that he spent the extra money to go to Yale and have these prejudices gloseed up at great expesne when he could have gone in-state to a public school and maybe even learned enough practical law to shake those prejudices.

All that said, while law and the rule of law is a very good thing, which is why law is an honorable and necessary profession, much of the law we have is very bad law for all the obvious reasons. I rather am inclined to think that apart from the time-honored grounds for lawyer-hating that go back beyond America or even capitalism, a good deal of the lawyer-hating we have is due to the fact that a lot of the law we have is cruel, unreasonable, harsh and oppressive.

But it's more complex, because some of the harshest and most oppressive law we have, particularly in the criminal law area--the death penalty, mandatory minimums and the like--are of course very popular with the working class.


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