“He saw a lawyer killing a viper on a dunghill hard by his own stable: And the devil smiled, for it put him in mind of Cain and his brother Abel” – S.T Coleridge, The Devil’s Thoughts.
As a Christian, I am often apprehensive that I will never see the kingdom of God, having committed the mortal sin of being a lawyer.
The Ten Commandments do not expressly prohibit law practice, possibly because there were no lawyers then, although the seventh commandment appears to have been pre-emptive. What worries me is the dislike Jesus had for lawyers. One time Jesus was dining in the house of a Pharisee when he got into an argument with the host. In the midst of the argument, a busy body lawyer, concerned about the things Jesus was saying about Pharisees although it was none of his business, rudely interrupted Jesus and asked him: “Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also?” And Jesus replied: “Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! For ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers…Woe unto you, lawyers! For ye have taken away the key of knowledge: Ye entered not in yourselves and them that were entering in ye hindered”.
Very unkind things have been said and done to lawyers. There are the famous words by Shakespeare; seeking for the death of all lawyers which put the fear of God in every lawyer knowing that one day someone will take the suggestion seriously. The joy of the populace when a lawyer dies was captured by a writer, Carl Sandburg, in a piece of literature under the title The lawyers know too much, when he asked:
Where is there always a secret singing when a lawyer cashes in and dies. Why does a hearse horse snicker Hauling a lawyer away?
Another writer, Woodworth, could not stand the sight of a lawyer and in A Poet’s Epitaph, he writes:
A lawyer art thou? – draw not nigh! Go carry to some fitter place the keenness of that practiced eye, The hardness of that sallow face.
The bottom line of this distrust and dislike for lawyers is money. Those who have to use lawyers usually are of the mind that lawyers charge too much for too little, and when they do much, they charge even more. Many long for those days long gone when lawyers were prohibited from charging for their work.
In dynastic China, the rendering of legal aid for reward was prohibited. Similarly, in ancient Greece and early republican Rome, there were rules against the giving of paid legal advice. This rule was found in seventeenth-century England where the English barrister was prohibited from suing for his legal fees. When the rules were removed, and as a lawyer Iam forever grateful that they were, law practice became a business. It became a commercial service for which lawyers got paid for. Unfortunately, law practice often became a mercenary mission and began to breed social hatred for lawyers. One writer attempts to explain the results thus:
“The reason for the prejudice is likely to have a belief still often found among non-lawyers, namely that lawyers foment social strife in order to earn fees and have a vested interest in misinterpreting the customs of the fathers, the teaching of the prophets, the dooms of her kings or the intention of parliament”.
This is not an exaggeration. Alan Harding, in A Social History of English Law, comments on law practice in the early seventeenth century saying: “As property which had been dearly bought, legal office had to be exploited in the ways which seem to us corrupt. Fees had to be extorted at every step of the process, since no official could afford to give up what he had calculated on receiving.”
He goes on: “The pursuit of profit certainly damaged the efficiency if not the integrity of the law. When documents and procedures were paid for by the length, delay was the lawyer’s business. Vexation litigation – the harassing of an enemy by interminable and inconclusive suits – took its point from the expense of the law. Were the lawyers worth the cost to society? To an appreciable extent they worked only for themselves.”
Thus in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Dick suggested to Jack Cade: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”. Alan Harding however, says that more annoying than the greed and lust of the lawyers the was their subtlety. He explains: “Any wickedness can be clothed with legality. Convey is the lawyer’s word for steal.” And Richard Burton is understandable when he calls lawyers thieves and seminaries of discord – common hungry pettifoggers.
But a lawyer’s position has to be understood before judgement can be passed against him. Admittedly, there are lawyers who have made great fortunes through grave misdeeds. The famous English lawyer, judge and politician, Sir Edward Cooke, was criticised as “within these ten years, in my knowledge, was not able to dispend above 100 pounds a year, and now – may dispend betwixt 12,000 and 14,000 pounds.”
Yet there are lawyers who have made fortunes by working hard and by being brilliant. Some lawyers, few though they are, make so much difference to a litigation or commercial transaction that they deserve to share in the large fortunes they secure for their clients. Estate agents do it, why shouldn’t lawyers.
The hostility does not come because of the money. It comes because the lawyers enjoy a monopoly over legal practice which they have enjoyed from the first day and which they will enjoy to the last. Anyone requiring legal aid, however trivial, has to pay a lawyer. And perhaps even more because of the “subtlety” of lawyers, of the keenness of their practiced eyes and the hardness of their hollow faces which to many non-lawyers is hypocritical.
So, are lawyers supposed to charge? If yes, how much? How ca you protect yourself from ridiculously exorbitant legal fees