Sunday, October 23, 2011

quote of the day: lawyers and justice in colonial vermont

On attitudes toward the law in colonial Vermont and New Hampshire:
The Yankee pioneers, and especially the judges, who were invariably laymen, viewed trained lawyers with suspicion. One lawyer complained that a chief justice in New Hampshire, 'having no law learning himself, did not like to be pestered with it at his courts.' Another lawyer attempted to file a demurrer, only to have it ridiculed by the judge as 'an invention of the Bar to prevent justice.' (John Page, "The Economic Structure of Society in Revolutionary Bennington", Vermont History 49 [1981], pp. 69-84)
You really have to wonder how much such attitudes have changed over time, or where this view is found in the general population today. Most of us have heard jokes about lawyers and their uselessness to society. But, what other way would we have it? Do we really want to go back to the mid-18th century when a single judge, member of some privileged elite, would argue and then decide on our cases instead of some weasel-of-a-lawyer? Aren't things made just a tiny-bit better by such improvements?

And yet, popular opinion of lawyers is sour. There seems, in the end, to be a kernel of this conservatism in our modern discourse still left over from our distant past.

Although, it is useful to remember at this point that there is a third way, definitely distinct from the two above -- more revolutionary in scope. Abolish the institutions of capitalism which give rise to a professional class of lawyers, and maybe the path to justice, obfuscated by the lawyer (according to the quote above!), might end up being a bit clearer.

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