October is a perfect month to frighten a few (um, all) of those problem clients. On All Hallows' Eve, the lawyers of the world (1.3 million of them)1 will make a collective decision to devote their days to yarn bombing around the world. Officials will be confused then overrun with calls to cut through this new red tape. A black market for scissors will quickly develop and rumors will rage that the International Space Station is next. As lawyers perfect their guerilla knitting tactics, clients the world over realize they are really in a tangle now.
Thanks to the ancient Greeks,* we do have a system of democratic government that includes over 4,500 federal laws and close to 300,000 federal regulations that all result in penalties when violated.2 The rule of law would still exist, however, who would hold individuals, companies, or countries accountable when laws are broken?
In disturbing cases like Jeffrey Dahmer, the horrifying effects of thalidomide, and reporter Terry Anderson's captivity in Lebanon in the '80s, legal professionals held the culprits accountable in a court of law and ensured there were consequences to their actions.
Whether we agree on the form of punishment or not, laws are only as good as the interpretation and enforcement that surrounds them. Lawyers prove a crime has been committed by the individual charged, substantiated by impartial witnesses and rules of evidence, and ensure appropriate sentencing.
Beyond common law crimes that society judges as clearly criminally and morally wrong, there are the certain and inalienable rights of individuals that must be protected. Your right to free speech, to privacy, and to a fair, impartial trial by jury, are all subject to ongoing scrutiny and attack. If there is no one to defend that right on your behalf in a formal court of law, it becomes so many words on a very old piece of parchment. Landmark court cases like Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education began with both a client and a lawyer.
Admittedly, most clients don’t see much beyond the hefty hourly rate for professional legal expertise (over $500 for the average law firm partner's time),2 let alone clearly understand what they receive in return. More often you hear sentiments that run the gamut from "what am I paying you for" to "you were supposed to make it all go away."
There's a reason why lawyers are required to earn a bachelor's degree, a juris doctorate degree, pass the bar exam, and continue their education if they are actively practicing law. Highly specific rules, regulations, and laws pertain to technical areas like tax, entertainment, and code enforcement so a lawyer's expertise is necessary. And those 4,500 federal laws we talked about are combined with a mind-boggling number of state laws which vary depending on the state and increase on a yearly basis. California alone passed 898 new laws on January 1, 2017.3
At a very basic level, that hourly rate ensures accurate information and an understanding of legal precedents. Beyond the obvious, legal strategy, advice, and risk management are expertise that is critical but difficult to quantify. For clients who will need to go it alone now, the statistics are not very encouraging. Pro se, or self-representation, is challenging at best, and ill-advised at worst.
From identifying the court to file in, what paperwork is necessary, important research to complete, to understanding how a trial proceeds, acting as your own attorney is not easy, as:4
- Only 19% of self-represented individuals win in disputes with the IRS compared to 28% of individuals represented by a lawyer
- Self-represented individuals are more likely to be found guilty in criminal cases than those represented by a private attorney
- In mortgage foreclosure cases, self-represented individuals are two times more likely to lose their home than those represented by a lawyer
- In domestic violence cases, the odds of obtaining a protective order fall by over 50% if you self-represent vs hire a lawyer
If you think you won't be unfortunate enough to be a party to a crime, you will still need an attorney to conduct the everyday business of life like getting a marriage license, opening a business, buying a home, or filing a will or an estate plan. Like other similar, highly skilled professionals, lawyers serve an important purpose beyond filing briefs and showing up in court.
How about we draft strict regulations on the sale and purchase of yarn to get lawyers back to work? A word of caution, though–problem clients could find their "hands are tied" in future.
What do you think a world without lawyers would look like? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
*In ancient Greece, most citizens did, in fact, defend themselves.
This article is for informational purposes only.
1“ABA National Lawyer Population Survey.” American Bar Association, 2017.
2Cohen, Joel, et al. “A Pair of Judges Debate Whether Courtroom Lawyers Ever Make a Difference.” Slate Magazine, 31 July 2017, Accessed 19 September 2017.
3“New year, new laws take effect.” ABC13 Houston, ABC Inc., 1 January 2017. Accessed 19 September 2017.
4“Roundup: Success Rates of Getting a Lawyer vs. Representing Yourself [INFOGRAPHIC].” Lawgood, 20 December 2016. Accessed 19 September 2017.
“What Does a Lawyer Do?” Degrees & Courses from Top Colleges and Universities: Learn.Org, Learn.org. Accessed 19 September 2017.
“Imagining a World Without Lawyers.” Law Offices of Silky Sahnan, legalservicesca.com. 7 July 2017. Accessed 19 September 2017.
“Should You Represent Yourself in Court?” Findlaw, litigation.findlaw.com, Thomson Reuters. Accessed 19 September 2017.
“When Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney?” Hg.org, HGExperts.Com. Accessed 19 September 2017.