An Aristocracy of Lawyers: A Tool Looking for a Job?

lawyer.pngIt is said that there is nothing new under the sun.   I doubt the value of that conventional wisdom.  While it may be true that on some world, some where, at some time, everything we do someone has done before, what difference does that make if we can know naught of it?  What is new for us is new.

Look around you and consider what you have learned from history.  Do we not live in a world of firsts?  Do we not have problems and challenges to overcome that no men before have seen?  Does that not mean that no one can claim experience solving such problems and challenges?

Yet there are people who proclaim for us their expertise as problem solvers and grandly offer their leadership.  There is nothing new about that.  Every era in human in human history has left us stories of men demanding, cajoling, and forcing their fellows to follow them.  Some of these men knew what they were doing, and some did not.  Some served the needs of their fellows, and some did not.  Whereas too many created war and strife and left us tales of wretched exploitation and poverty, too few created order and prosperity.

Our nation is one of the blessed few with a lucky heritage.  For the most part, our forebears succeeding in distinguishing charlatans from competent and honest leaders.  Likewise, our future success depends upon our ability to find and select competent and honest leaders.  We must select honorable, well educated leaders who understand their limitations.  We also must do for ourselves what they cannot do for us, and they must help us differentiate between the two.

Historically, amongst the members of the legal profession, we have found large numbers of our leaders.  Unfortunately, these leaders have increasingly provided us less adequate service.  Why is that?  I think I know the problem.  Whenever we want a job done right, we should begin by selecting the right tools for the job.  When we have many problems and many challenges, how likely is that a lawyer is always right tool?

What kind of tasks can we expect lawyers to perform well?  What expertise do lawyers gain as part of their legal training and experience?  Here is an obvious list.

  • The Law – a technical understanding of how our legal system works including its associated philosophy and history.
  • Logic – including the techniques of debate.
  • Language – how to communicate with precision and accuracy.

In practice, lawyers help us to fix blame on the guilty, and they help us to avoid blame.  They help us to design our laws so that our business transactions are open and honest.  Because of their understanding of contractual arrangements and their language skills, lawyers can serve as excellent mediators and negotiators.   Nonetheless, the legal profession encapsulates only a small portion of the skilled people within our society.

As our government has grown, government has taken upon itself a great many tasks.  Here is a short list.  No doubt you can think of more.

  • Retirement planning
  • Transportation
  • Health care
  • Welfare services
  • Military defense
  • Scientific research
  • Education
  • Regulation of commerce
  • Environment protection
  • Parks and recreation
  • Justice

When you consider this list of tasks, note that while the skills of a legal professional may certainly have a place, the contributions a lawyer can make are more often than not relatively minor.  As different tools are needed for different tasks, different tasks also require different experts.  When we have plumbing problem, just because an electrician may want the job does not mean we are going to give it to him.

Unfortunately, lawyers are too often too persuasive.  When our legal aristocracy offers itself up as the right tool for the job in areas where lawyers simply do not have any demonstrable expertise, we should say no.  Too often we have said yes.   Thus we have given trillions of dollars over to our legal aristocracy, and we have given lawyers almost unfettered control over the spending of our wealth.

As we should have expected, the results have not been satisfactory.  Each year, particularly in areas where lawyers have little expertise such as retirement planning, health care, transportation, and education, the return on our investment has diminished.   The Social Security System chronically threatens to go broke, health care expenses keep rising, our transportation systems are becoming jammed, and our businesses are less satisfied with the skills of new workers.  Yet our legal aristocracy wants us to throw more of our money at these problems.

I see only one practical solution.  We must strip our legal aristocracy of responsibilities for which it has no demonstrable competence.  We must retain control of our own money, and we must make better use of the skills of other experts.  How can that be done?

Note that this post is the third in a four-part series.  Here are links to the first two posts

I expect to write one more post on this subject.

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