What If There Were No Lawyers?

I’ve been a lawyer in Charleston, South Carolina for over 29 years now. Naturally, I know a lot of them and deal with them every day. Of course, I also deal with many folks who aren’t exactly fond of lawyers. Some of you may like them, many of you may loathe them, and all of you would rather not deal with them. Lawyers are constantly criticized by the public and demonized by certain political parties as being the root of most of the evil in everyone’s lives. If lawyers are so bad, then let’s imagine that we live in a world where there are NO MORE LAWYERS! That sound’s like a cause for a celebration doesn’t it! Or does it . . . .?

“The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All The Lawyers.”

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the quote in Shakespeare’s Henry VI where the character said, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” This sentence is often misquoted to suggest that we would all be better off without any lawyers. If you read Henry VI, you’ll discover that isn’t what Shakespeare meant at all. In fact, this quote was about plotting to eliminate those who might stand in the way of a contemplated revolution. Stated another way, this quote was about how to create chaos and tyranny by killing off the guardians of the people’s independence. Having said that, I doubt I’ve changed anyone’s mind that lawyers are “good” and that a world without lawyers is “bad.” Before you jump to any conclusions, let’s look closer at what our world would be without lawyers.

A World Without Lawyers is Still a World With Rules

With or without lawyers, you’re going to live in a world with rules. Societies, whether democratic, socialist, or imperial, can only function if there are rules dealing with commerce, criminal conduct, owning property, and the list goes on. In fact, if you tried to take away all the rules of a civilized society, you’d still be left with one harsh rule -“Might makes right!” In other words, if we toss aside the rules of a civilized society, then all we’re left with is brutality, plunder, tyranny, and oppression. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not live in a world where it’s “kill or be killed” and “take everything by force.” In the end, whether you have lawyers, you’ll still have rules.

Imagine A World of Rules But No Lawyers

OK, so let’s imagine we have a world with rules, but let’s pretend there are no lawyers. Is that really such a good thing? I think we can answer that question by looking at some important issues in our society and imagining how things may have turned out WITHOUT any lawyers.

The United States Constitution – Of course, this is perhaps the single most important document in U.S. history that shapes the rules in our free society. Of the 10 key framers of our constitution, 7 were lawyers (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, James Wilson, George Wyeth, Edmund Randolph, and John Dickerson.) I’m not saying there wouldn’t be a constitution without these 7 gentlemen, but I am saying that their legal backgrounds were instrumental to framing the document that is most important to our society.

Women’s Right to Vote – The Nineteenth Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution in 1920. It states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Lawyers helped petition the Supreme Court, lobbied Congress, and defended scores of women who protested their rights to vote in the United States. Again, I’m not saying that women wouldn’t have succeeded on their own without lawyers. However, I am saying that many of those who spoke out in protest to support women’s rights to vote would likely have remained in jail and their voices silenced if it weren’t for lawyers.

Equal Rights – Without lawyers such as Thurgood Marshall and many others, it is quite possible that many folks would find themselves attending separate schools, eating at separate lunch counters, drinking from separate public water fountains, and riding in the back of the bus. Again, that’s not a world I want to live in.

These are just 3 examples among THOUSANDS of others. Please trust me when I say that I could write an entire book about lawyers who have championed causes throughout history and who have contributed to the development of a free society.

Consumer Protection – What about other, more mundane, issues such as the products and services that we buy such as the cars we drive, the drugs we take, and so on? If you do enough digging, you’ll find that it was lawyers who helped to expose dangerous products and situations and to protect us from harm such as:

  • Drugs administered to pregnant women that caused severe abnormalities (thalidomide)
  • Gas tanks that exploded on impact (Ford trucks and the Pinto)
  • Cancer-causing insulation in homes and public buildings (asbestos)
  • Toddler and children’s deaths from paint (lead-based)
  • Vehicle Rollovers (Ford and Firestone Tires)

Again, I could fill up a book on all of the examples where lawyers helped to protect consumers. Businesses and industries have their faults just like others do. Too often they focus on profits over people. When that happens, someone is likely to get hurt. Without any lawyers in the world to stand up against those who harm us and our families, the world would be a lot more dangerous every day.

Criminal Justice –  Although we have plenty of rules to protect the innocent, I see those rules broken routinely. These rules include your rights against unreasonable search and seizure, your rights to privacy in your own home, your right to a fair trial. and the list goes on. Without lawyers to champion these rights, there is a good possibility that we would live in a police state where soon you’d find that you have no more rights.

A World With Lawyers Is Better Than a World Without Them

I’m not naive. I know that lawyers have faults just like other people. There are greedy lawyers, lazy lawyers, and unethical lawyers. Good or bad, there are probably too many lawyers. Having said that, I know there are great lawyers out there who, every day, do good deeds both small and grand. These are the lawyers who guide you through your divorce, who protect you when you’ve been in an accident, who help to ensure you work under equal conditions, and the list goes on.  I’m not asking you to love lawyers or even like them. Instead, I just want you to imagine what our world would be like if there was no one to champion reason, fairness, freedom, and our rights in a civilized society.

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