I look forward to your column as a weekly voice of common sense and reason for your readers. So I was surprised and offended by a statement you made in a recent article. Your main point was to explain that sellers should not be liable for defects that are concealed within walls, and you advised a buyer to cut his losses and move on, rather than suing the seller. But then, you took a gratuitous swipe at the entire legal profession, stating that “armies of lawyers” would pursue poorly founded litigation to obtain excessive fees. I agree that some attorneys practice law on that basis, but it is unfair to portray such practices as a general rule. As an attorney who values professional integrity, I would be interested to know your basis for this assertion. –Heidi
Your reaction to my negative portrayal of the legal profession is understandable. Such generalizations can unfairly tarnish the perception of honest and ethical lawyers, of whom there are many. Unfortunately, the number of attorneys who are ready and willing to undertake unworthy causes is sufficient to have noticeably corrupted the quality of life and commerce in our society. The resultant degradation has, in fact, become a matter of common parlance, even of humor. To name a few related consequences:
- Personal injury suits for simple daily mishaps, such as tripping over a sidewalk crack, have become commonplace.
- Fast-food vendors are afraid to serve coffee that might be too hot.
- Storeowners are afraid to let customers use their restrooms.
- Hotels are no longer built with openable windows.
- Good doctors have retired from the medical profession because of high insurance premiums and the fear of being sued.
- The fear of harassment lawsuits dictates what can and cannot be said in the workplace.
- Redundant warning labels and endless legal disclaimers are to be found on everything we buy, from toys to can openers and rom cell phones to home inspection reports.
- The cost of errors and omissions insurance for home inspectors and others has tripled in recent years, even for those who have had no claims (an old joke in the profession is that there are two kinds of home inspectors: those who have been sued and those who will be).
These examples arise from misdirected applications of civil law. In the criminal arena, the consequences are even worse.
- Convicted murderers are routinely paroled, enabling the occurrence of further violent crimes.
- Civil rights for felons are argued on the same basis as human rights (restoring the voting rights of convicts is a typical cause of action).
- A wealthy sports celebrity can slaughter two human beings and be legally exonerated (the practical definition for “adequate legal defense” has become “an all-out attempt to gain acquittal, regardless of guilt or innocence.”)
Attorneys who promote strict legality in deference to true justice have hijacked the reputation and direction of the legal profession. What these agents of “law” apparently forget is that the purpose of law is to promote justice. Instead, the letter of the law has become an end in itself, regardless of whether justice is truly served. This sad reality is widely recognized by the American mainstream. Hence, the proliferation of attorney jokes, which attempt to make light of situations that are not truly funny.
To elevate this low state of legal practice and to restore public respect for a once-venerated profession, attorneys of high ethical commitment must actively affirm the difference between right and wrong in matters of jurisprudence, not only in daily legal practice, but in the curricula of law schools, and in the standards set forth by the leadership of bar associations. In a society where moral relativism is increasingly the predominant ethic, such reforms do not appear to be forthcoming. But we can hope, we can criticize, and we can demand.
To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.
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