We are fortunate to be members of the legal profession. We worked hard in school for the better part of a decade, and even harder in our years of practice in order to hone our skills. We are now in a profession dating back to the ancient pillars of modern civilization, and it is an honor because we get to go to bat for our clients every day.
Being a lawyer comes with the opportunity, if not responsibility, to share what we have learned and to raise the level of the conversation about the law. All too often people are misguided about their fundamental rights, the principles of our legal system, how the courts work, and on and on, by truly honest attempts (usually) to convey information. Whether it is a television news report that gets the law wrong, a newspaper story that misconstrues the procedure in the courts, or a friend who swears that a cousin had the same legal problem and insists that “here’s what that lawyer told her to do…” misinformation runs rampant when it comes to the law and that does real damage.
The damage done is ultimately a misinformed influence on policy. Our impression of how the courts and law work and our impression of the way they treat living, breathing people affect how we think of existential subjects like the “Rule of Law” or the nature of law itself (another thing to expect on this blog, gratuitous references to the study of philosophy). Whether we are cognizant of it or not, our conceptions of the existential shape our opinions of social systems, and by extension influence who among us attain positions of power. Have you ever heard of a politician running as a “tough on crime” candidate? Does that mean making communities safer, or increasing incarceration for non-violent offenses? How about “tort reform?” Is it a way rein in insurance costs and lawyers, or was it a movement that began in the corporate world to limit your right to a jury trial? (I tried to find an objective article for you, apparently none exist, which sort of goes to my point. “Hot Coffee” is an interesting documentary, though also not objective). What about the increasingly hostile Title IX debate? Is it misogynistic sexual assault apologia or is the issue a lack of due process on campus? That link may not be safe for work, by the way.
The point is, this is where the rubber meets the road. These are not just lofty concepts floating around law school hallways, these are real issues that affect us and our neighbors. Promises are made to affect our decisions, but then we learn that what we were told isn’t quite so; unfortunately the correction rarely sells as many copies as the initial error.
We live in the era of clickbait, when catchy banners, headlines, and tweets are more important than substance. Not that headlines have never been exaggeratory, but now there are a million at your fingertips in an instant. Keep that in mind when reading someone of questionable qualifications writing all about the law. A particularly pernicious example comes to mind in the “Making a Murderer” phenomenon; everyone was suddenly a legal scholar when it came to the intricacies of coercion under the Fourteenth Amendment (good idea, I’ll write about that soon), on police cover-ups, jurors’ psychology, the list is endless. Even real life, flesh and blood lawyers were spewing abject nonsense to suit the angle they preferred. It was a sad day for our colleagues in the bar.
While writing this post I took a break to read an article in a major regional paper on a major topic in that region. The article was by an engineer who swung and missed when talking about double jeopardy. The article was otherwise pretty good, yet thousands of people were just misinformed about their fundamental rights…again.
This blog is not about giving legal advice, it is about sharing the sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, and always interesting workings of the law itself. By doing so, we aim to do our small part in clarifying the mess that has been wrought in the popular understanding of the law, and to live up to the privilege it is to be members of this profession.
As always, it should go without saying that nothing here should be considered legal advice. Just like a doctor’s blog isn’t real medical advice.