Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Lawyer Myth - Rennard Strickland, Frank T. Read

The Lawyer Myth is the second book I have read due to a recommendation by the Kaplan LSAT survey. They ask, "Have you read any of these books?" And they list, 1L by Scott Turow, The Lawyer Myth (which is actually pretty new, published in 2008), and 1L of a Ride (what I'll read if I enroll come February or March), and one or two others.

Basically, 1L was a more compelling read than The Lawyer Myth, but they have different purposes. Turow's purpose is to give a thorough (if dated) look at the first year of a Harvard Law School student. Strickland and Read's purpose is to defend the legal profession against its detractors. They achieve their goal, but at the cost of bias.

Obviously, lawyers are going to be biased! True, their aim is to bring about justice, and the greater good in general. There is an ethical code that they must follow much like the Hippocratic oath for doctors. But still, they trade in arguments, and they bring up the greatest possible points in order to convince their audience (the judge, the jury, the reader) that their opinion is the correct one. Nervous, potential 1L-ers will feel better about their decision, but it helps to maintain a healthy bit of skepticism while reading this book.

Strickland and Read are not lawyers, but legal professors, and former deans of law schools. Read was once even President of LSAC. Of course, they have a vested interest in saying there aren't too many lawyers, and that going to school to become a lawyer is a worthwhile pursuit.

They do make the statement that there are over 1 million minted lawyers in the USA. That means that 1 in 300 people is a lawyer. It seems higher than that, for me at least. I have 163 friends on Facebook and I think about ten of them are lawyers, or have legal ambitions.

Once I read an essay online, on the US News and World Report website, actually, entitled, "Why Law School is for Everyone." It was a great essay that allayed all of my anxieties about my impending application. Then came the comments. Let me try to find a link. Here we are:

If you don't want to waste your time reading those comments, I'll summarize. Law school costs close to $200,000. Obviously this total varies greatly with scholarships, housing, in-state public tuition, etc., but if you go in paying the full ticket price to NYU, which I think most people would if they could, you'll be out considerably more than $200,000 actually. Instead of worrying about buying property, law school graduates can worry about paying off loans for a long time. What if you can't get one of those snazzy $160,000 first year associate jobs at a big law firm? Well, you seem pretty fucked. And this is why all of my older sister's friends who are lawyers always say to her, "Tell him not to do it!" Furthermore, during the three years you are in law school, you could be working towards a promotion at another job, and actually building up your savings, rather than amassing some horrible debt that will threaten to destroy your will to live. (The flip side of this is that, you are probably going to law school because you can't get a job that offers much of a future, or you find your job tedious and meaningless.)

Strickland and Read do not discuss the cost of law school very deeply at all--they tend to focus on the media and its portrayal of lawyers and the legal profession. They say they are mad as hell about the way people have talked about lawyers, and they aren't going to take it anymore. Thankfully they come off more trustworthy than Glenn Beck. They do diss Bill O'Reilly at a point or two.

At 132 pages, the book reads wonderfully. It is brisk, and even entertaining at points. They acknowledge that the lawyer's job is often boring with this funny quote:

"Most of this day-to-day lawyering is so ordinary and dull that novelists and filmmakers pass it by. Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, concluded that 'nothing could be more boring than an absolutely accurate movie about the law.'" (6)

Strickland and Read do an excellent job of writing clearly and effectively, without the use of legalese, and presenting a few cases and opinions with a focused approach that will hold the reader's interest (which I fear real law school reading will fail to do). They write about the infamous case of the older lady who spilled McDonald's coffee and burned herself and sued the mega-corporation. They say that the facts were distorted by the media to give an image of the lawyer as the "ambulance-chaser." They write about how nobody would have ever heard the name Ryan White were it not for the lawyers that represented his case.

They even tell a few great stories about lawyers that will inspire:

"For forty years, the tobacco industry had won every case brought against it--that was, until Richard Scruggs appeared. Richard Scruggs is a small-town plaintiff's attorney from Mississippi, who started his career with class action lawsuits against the asbestos industry. Scruggs used his own money, more than $9 million from his successes in the asbestos cases, to tackle Big Tobacco in a Mississippi courtroom. In 1997, Scruggs and Mississippi's attorney general, Michael Moore, sued thirteen tobacco companies on behalf of the state's taxpayers in order to recover money expended on health care for smokers.
The two lawyers traveled across the country, eventually convincing the attorney generals of some forty other states to join their cause. In addition, Scruggs and Moore protected two very important whistleblowers, including the first high-level tobacco executive to turn against the companies. Once the tobacco industry was forced to the negotiating table, the companies agreed to pay an astonishing $368 billion in health-related damages. Among the achievements of the settlement were a $25 billion trust for tobacco-related medical research, a ban on all outdoor advertising and the use of cartoon characters, and the ability for individual smokers to bring their own lawsuits in the future. Because he had pursued the case on a contingent-fee basis, Scruggs stood to gain more than $1 billion from the settlement; however, he agreed to have his fees decided by a national panel of judges. More than collecting a giant fee, Scruggs said, he wanted to help the public, 'to really make a difference in the world. It was an inspiration. [Lawyers] got caught up in [the] feeling...they were really doing a service to humanity.' Currently, Scruggs is fighting insurance companies that have denied payment on thousands of damage claims in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Thus far, he has recovered $130 million from State Farm Insurance to be paid to policyholders in Mississippi." (96-97)

They do quote Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. as saying, "Of course, the law is not the place for the artist or poet," but this book did make me feel better about the pursuit of a future in the legal field. This was an enjoyable read, and I recommend it--but I do not recommend reading without a few reservations in mind.