TV 'Experts' Tarnishing The Legal Profession

Dec. 21, 2004
The search for notoriety is replacing the search for truth.

Television coverage of sexual indiscretion charges against President Clinton convinces me that, despite what we are taught, we are not a nation of laws. Instead, we have become a nation of lawyers. Our legal system says that no one is above the law. I'm concerned about those of us who are under the law. And terribly frightened of those behind the laws. Thousands of those laws should never have been passed in the first place. That's how we became a nation of laws. But television is making us a nation of lawyers. Today, lawyers are not only prosecutors and defense attorneys, they also are expert witnesses. This gives them a frightening role: prejudging the accused without benefit of the evidence. Never in American history have so many lawyers trashed one another so publicly, given such conflicting interpretations of the same laws, substituted so much partisan politics for objective reason, and so viciously attacked those who disagree with them. What bothers me about legal-talking-head-bashing is how little importance the lawyers place on the search for the truth and how much importance they place on winning the case -- at whatever cost -- without any concern for how it will harm the nation, its citizens, or the legal profession. I am left with the feeling that many of the lawyers appearing as experts on television wouldn't recognize the truth if it were shouted in their ears. They have trashed enough people to fill a garbage dump. They have spun more fairy tales than Hans Christian Anderson. Invented more dragons than Merlin the Enchanter, more myths than Homer, and more voodoo than Papa Ghede. Lawyers are mentally ambidextrous folks who can argue either side in a case. As a result of their outrageous fees, they will one day inherit the earth. If your lawyer says "Hello," it costs you $50. "How are you?" costs $75. One lawyer I've heard about charges you a fee if he dreams about you. And if he thinks about you while going up in an elevator, he charges double time. Imagine, if you will, this conversation between Monica Lewinsky and her $500-per-hour legal eagles negotiating their fees: "Gentlemen, your bills are as padded as Bill's stories about our relationship." Plato and Jonas reply, "Remember, Miss Lewinsky, we are furnishing the skill, the eloquence, and the necessary legal experience required for your case." Lewinsky answers, "Yeah, sure, but I furnished the case itself." The lawyers reply with an appropriate sneer, "Big deal! Any intern could have done what you did." William Ginsburg, Lewinsky's former attorney, recently set a record for advocate visibility when he appeared on all five Sunday network news shows on the same day. His client eventually hired new counsel. Apparently Ginsburg's ratings weren't high enough. I like lawyers. Some of my best friends are lawyers. But as a result of this trend in lawyering on television, I'm beginning to distrust them a little. Abe Lincoln, a lawyer himself, tells this story about lawyers: In his early years of practicing law, Lincoln had to travel across Illinois in midwinter to get to a trial. When he reached the town where it was to be held, he checked into the inn next to the courthouse. After registering, he decided to look around a bit. That's when he discovered the sitting room. It was full of lawyers huddled around a stove and discussing the case. "Cold out, eh?" remarked one of them. "Colder than hell," agreed Lincoln affably. "You've been there too, Mr. Lincoln?" asked another. "Yup," he said with a smile. "And it's just like here -- all the lawyers are standing next to the fire." I couldn't have said it better.

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