by Michael Koskoff
November 11, 2007
Shakespeare’s famous line, “Let’s kill all the lawyers,” has been repeated throughout the ages by comedians and lawyer-bashers alike. Even President Bush from time to time has jumped on the bandwagon, vilifying trial lawyers. The line was spoken in the play, Henry VI part 2, by a character, “Dick the Butcher,” a member of Jack Cade’s rebellion. Killing the lawyers was to be the first step in upsetting the social order.
Recent news makes the line not so funny.
In Pakistan, during the past few days, lawyers have been attacked by baton-wielding police under the direction of the nation’s dictator, Pervez Musharraf. “President” Musharraf knows what Shakespeare knew and what dictators have known throughout the ages – the key to quashing liberty is to destroy an independent bar.
As of this writing more than 25% of the nations lawyers are in jail, for all practical purposes shutting down the country’s judicial system. This leaves the citizens of Pakistan with no rights and no one to protect them against the unchecked power of Musharraf and the military.
The lawyers in Pakistan, operating in an independent judiciary, were all that stood in the way of absolute dictatorship. In much the same way, lawyers in our country stand in between the unchecked power of the government, the military and large multi-national corporate power.
Every day lawyers wage fights for ordinary citizens against these powerful interests, often for no or little pay. In the largest volunteer program in the history, trial lawyers handled thousands of compensation claims for the victims of 9/11, at no pay. American lawyers are volunteering by the score to represent prisoners in Guantanamo, held without bail and without even being charged with any crime. Hundreds more volunteer to handle cases for those on death row. These lawyers receive neither pay nor praise. They do it to preserve the freedoms that we all cherish.
On an ongoing basis, public defenders and legal aid workers handle heavy case loads at reduced pay to make sure that even the poorest amongst us has access to the judicial system.
Every day private attorneys from small and medium sized firms represent ordinary citizens against large multi-national corporations and the government, itself, in courts that provide a level playing field. Because these lawyers are often paid only if they win even the most impoverished citizen can take on the largest corporation with competent representation.
The result of all of this is that we have a fairer, safer and freer country than any other on the planet.
Isn’t it time to remember that the surest way to preserve our freedoms is to protect our judicial system and support the contribution of the lawyers who work within it? The next time a politician repeats the call to “kill all the lawyers,” remember Pakistan.
Michael Koskoff is an attorney with the Bridgeport & New Haven law firm of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder.