We have a coffee mug that says on one side:
“Talk is cheap…”
And on the other,
“until you hire a lawyer.”
Joking about lawyers, the perplexity and paradox that challenges their profession, has been an American pastime for centuries. Lawyers were the butt of snickers even before the constitutional convention over 200 years ago, which established the commanding principles of our society. Essentially, they put the Golden Rule into statute and took it from there.
The law in this country is a sacred trust, an instrument of justice. Lawyers, and among them the courts, argue the law – what it says, what it means – with interpretations changing as our society changes. This is a demanding pursuit, one that requires a sophisticated education; the law, even at base, is nothing simple. Knowledge of law, its twists and turns, is essential to maintain and strengthen the principles that keep us from tyranny and chaos. Without lawyers and the courts there is no law, and with no law we invite anarchy.
So it’s dismaying to see the Kansas Senate, for the first time in ages, with no lawyer-members. As recent as the early 1990s, there were common quips that the legislature had too many lawyers, professionals who complicated the simple and confused the obvious. In the 1970s, Kansas even had a GOP primary candidate for attorney general who had no law degree; we need an attorney general from “the other side of the bar,” he claimed. He lost.
With no lawyers, the Senate lacks anyone trained professionally to read or write the law, often a tricky challenge.The misplaced comma, the wrong word, a confusing sentence, a complex paragraph buried in a subsection or leading an enacting clause, can mean disaster. Badly written law can confuse taxpayers, batter industries, wreck bank accounts, ruin lives.
With an eye for complications, lawyers have been known to prevent disaster in the beginning stages, as bills are drafted.
With so few lawyers in the House and none in the Senate, legislators will need help. They will turn to the outside. Many lobbyists and agency managers are lawyers.
They are in demand. Special interests and cause lobbies are happy to advise, and write the law, especially when it affects their own interests. A word here, a clause there, and the desired slant is guaranteed and no one’s the wiser.
Successful lawyers lead demanding and often profitable professional lives. In recent years, they found the legislature increasingly partisan, self-absorbed, short-sighted, even juvenile, willing to do little more than memorize the talking points of cause lobbies that financed their campaigns, or the governor who commands them. It was no place for lawyers, people who are serious about law.
‒ JOHN MARSHALL