Perhaps a lot of my views in my sixties come from the fact that I was told I was going to die in my forties and didn’t. It allowed me an early retirement and caused me to reflect about what mattered in my life while I expected to pass on.
When I returned to working full time thereafter, I regained an appreciation for my profession, the practice of law, which grows stronger each day.
I am acutely aware of the problems which our present day justice system causes for most Americans. In Washington State, for example, as far back as 2003 most people (approximately 85%) could not afford an attorney to help them with legal matters. “This is true even though legal problems often involve housing conditions, access to or conditions of employment or other basic human needs, and are almost always characterized as ‘important’ by the households themselves.” And 2003 was well before the foreclosure crisis started the evil of hundreds of thousands of Americans being forced from their homes.
So what does the fact that access to lawyers for most people is almost non-existent mean in today’s world? Banks pay attorneys to have courts evict homeowners. Homeowners often don’t have the money to fight the banks so they represent themselves pro se. Most of the time the bank win, the pro se loses.
Adding a lawyer to the equation really does not change much if it is the amount of money that determines the attorneys efforts with regards to the foreclosure. The bank has an unlimited fund to pay its lawyers; defaulting homeowners are not so fortunate. Thus, in most cases the result is the same except the homeowners have spent the last of their money on a futile quest for justice. The quest is futile because it ultimately is won by the person who has the most money; regardless of how law and equity should influence the result.
What I like about my profession is that lawyers can make a difference in the outcome of events if their purpose is to pursue justice, notwithstanding this may be their only reward. The lawyers I work with often don’t stop litigating cases simply because money runs out. Where the facts support utilizing the adversary system to fully advise the courts of what should be an appropriate result under the law and/or equity, there have always been lawyers in our Republic who have been willing to make the case for justice. I like my profession because lawyers have always been able to make a difference when they were willing to do so.
This was illustrated early in our nation’s history. Samuel Adams, a lawyer, co-founded the Sons of Liberty, a group of patriots known for their role in the riotous Boston Tea Party. In 1763, Patrick Henry, a young Virginia lawyer, tried a lawsuit challenging the authority of the “crown”. In a courtroom description of the king, Henry argued: “A King, by disallowing Acts of this salutary nature, from being the father of his people, degenerated into a Tyrant and forfeits all right to his subjects’ obedience.” Approximately, a decade later Henry stood as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and spoke: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!—I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
It is hard to overstate the role lawyers played with regard to the creation of our original country and the development of the United States Constitution. Lawyers also participated greatly in the creation and ratification of Washington’s Constitution.
It is not clear to me that lawyers could, even if most of us wanted to, have a similar impact on this society; so corrupted by money as it is. But for now, we lawyers with a passion for justice (whether employed or not) are still in a unique position to do battle with those who belittle the concepts of Constitutional, equitable, and common law jurisprudence. It was a passion for justice which birthed this nation. That same passion for justice is needed to save our country from what it has become today.
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