Let’s Kill All The Lawyers?

Submitted by Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
Last week during a long road trip, I was listening to a CD from the band The Eagles. A song came on written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey the group’s songwriters and leaders. The song is called “Get Over It”. As the autumn beautiful Shenandoah Valley landscape was passing by, a line from the song jarred me from my motoring reverie and made me think of this blog. The line was:

“The more I think about it, Old Billy was right
Let’s kill all the lawyers, kill ’em tonight.”

I have always felt positive about the Constitution, lawyers and the legal profession. To have a democratic society one needs a system of laws and legal technicians to judge, uphold and defend those laws. Ostensibly, most people would view a society without laws as frightening and dangerous. Yet ever since our country’s founding  an undercurrent of distrust and dislike of has existed towards  those in the legal profession. What is the basis of this dichotomy and why is a dislike and distrust of lawyers so prevalent today in America? As a part of my answer to this we must go back to the first line of the quote from the song. What was meant by “old Billy” was William Shakespeare, where the original quote came from. Is this hatred of lawyers an old theme going back to Elizabethan England?

“Dick the butcher: The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.
Cade: Nay, that I mean to do.
Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78.”

This is actually a case of artistic license on Don Henley’s part. In the context of the play the line was spoken and replied to by rebels, who wanted to overthrow the government and institute tyranny. To kill all the lawyers was to ensure that no one could challenge the legitimacy and rule of the rebels. This is discussed in detail in the link below:


I believe that the hatred of the Law and Lawyers stems from a persistent strain of thought running through American politics, that predates the Revolution. The American Revolution was not an uprising that included all  colonists. A sizable minority called “Lobsterbacks” remained loyal to England and King George. After the revolution this large minority did not disappear, but manifested itself in a distrust of the Constitutional freedoms and a longing for a more authoritarian form of government. As we can remember from American History classes many urged George Washington to accept the title of King. What is a yearning for Kingship, if not the yearning for an authoritarian “father figure” providing order to our lives?

This yearning for authoritarian rule is one that I think is somewhat universal in humanity and if so explains why many nations choose a ruling father figure, even by electoral vote. My thought is that there are two distinct strains of motivation  comprising the  individuals that yearn for authoritarian rule. The first is by those who are economically advantaged and see themselves as the “kingmakers” and the aristocracy around the king. Authoritarian rule benefits them because it reduces threats to their status, wealth and power, by ensuring that the majority of people are kept in their place in the societal pecking order. This engenders a need for an authoritarian legal system, with draconian punishments to keep people in line. Even in such a system a legally trained mind, with a highly developed conscience, will try to find exceptions within the law to represent a client. It is a sad truth of history that many times these elite authoritarians find that once they’ve installed their “Leader”, he turns on them and they too find themselves laid low. This happened in NAZI Germany where many industrialists gave financial support for Hitler’s rise to power. One of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen “The Damned” by Luchino Visconti, 1969: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Damned_(1969_film)

The second, far larger group enamored of authoritarian rule, are people who I think are emotionally attracted to being told what to do. In essence their psychological makeup is one of conformity to strictly enforced norms. My notion is that this could be genetically influenced and there have been studies with infants at Harvard that find that as early as six months children show predispositions to certain behaviors affecting perceived risks. The studies involved whether an infant would trust its own inclination, or merely respond to its mothers call. Given my own wilfulness as a child and the dangers it put me in, perhaps the ability to listen to authority was initially a genetic advantage. It is my observation that many of us humans are averse to thinking for ourselves and would prefer having decisions made for us. Other studies have shown that people perceive the President as a father figure and are attracted to those candidates that at least outwardly conform to the stereotype. Ronald Reagan anyone?

What has this to do with distrust and hatred of lawyers? I believe that it has everything to do with it. Courageous lawyers upset the status quo and disappoint the majority’s wishes. When I was about twelve I read “Clarence Darrow for the Defense” a biography by Irving Stone. Darrow then became one of my lifelong heroes and I think among the greatest of American lawyers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Darrow . There are other heroes I’ve had who were also lawyers. Joseph Welsch, from the Army/McCarthy Hearings; Thurgood Marshall; Benjamin Hooks; Daniel Webster; Abe Lincoln; John Adams; William Kuntzler; Paul Robeson; and Jonathan Turley to name just a few. The common theme among uniting these lawyers were they spoke truth to power, despite government authority and the majority‘s will. The lawyer can be one of the bastions of maintaining freedom in our society and defending unpopular causes.

It is in defense of unpopular, though just, causes where they draw the most animus. The battles fought are usually against the wealthy and/or entrenched power bases, who have stirred up the peoples wrath through propaganda and appeals to our baser selves. Civil Rights, the Labor Movement, Abortion Rights, Gay Rights, to mention a few issues were (and still are) all unpopular causes fought in the courtroom by lawyers reviled for their success. If you come from an authoritarian mindset, or if your oxen are being gored, of course you despise the people who champion a cause and think them base..

Then we have cases like OJ, Casey Anthony, Phil Spector and Sam Sheppard. The public overwhelmingly believed these people guilty and when their defense attorney’s got them off, the public’s anger vented on these attorney’s who “suborned” justice. Overlooked is that we have a legal system that goes back essentially to the Magna Carta. It is a system that has evolved into the belief that a person’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. While it can never guarantee that the outcome will satisfy public demand, weren’t all of these people entitled to a fair trial? If they weren’t than what stops government officials from arbitrarily punishing whoever draws their wrath?

Without our system of law we have no freedom. All of us are subject to the arbitrary whims of those with might, or wealth. Our lives become a lot more frightening and our economic status more insecure. A good legal system balances and adds stability to a society and we weaken it at our peril. I write this with full knowledge of the problems that our legal system has and the understanding that only a minority of the legal profession actually defend our rights selflessly. Indeed, the majority of lawyers are less than noble in their professional aims, but most with a love of the law and the desire to practice it ethically. Rather than kill all the lawyers from my perspective I think we should do all we can to praise, foster and uplift this profession because its proper practice protects us all from tyranny and exploitation.

My view of course is not the only view and this article linked below has a different, yet meritorious take on the reasoning  why people feel this way: http://randazza.wordpress.com/2010/04/02/why-people-hate-lawyers-an-overview/

I wrote this as a personal perspective and as such some may find fault with the evidence I’ve presented. My intent, however, was personal, not evidentiary and I seek to merely explain my personal respect for lawyers, the Law and the Constitution. I hope to elicit your critiques and opinions about my perception that lawyers are generally now held in low esteem by many of the people. Do you think this is so and if you do, do you think this  low esteem is merited and why?

54 thoughts on “Let’s Kill All The Lawyers?”

  1. Dr. Davis, do not forget that lawyers were writing the Constitution of this country while physicians of the time were bloodletting and diagnosing based on the color of humours of the blood.

    So you will not think I am biased in an unseemly manner, ours is a family of both physicians and lawyers going back centuries, and therefore we do have a true sense of history around our house.

    1. When Madison embroiled himself in forging the Constitution he carefully omitted any reference to lawyer, attorney or other representation of that formal noble profession. There was a specific purpose in his mentation, the majority of the pre-revolutionary lawyers worked for the former monarch or were trained in England. The few lucky ones who did not go that route apprencticed themselves to a local learned indiividual who had previously studied the law. Colonial thought collectively distrusted the monarch and anyone who represented it. Lawyers were near top of the list. The Constitution offered something original any man (women came later) could go before a court and present a grievance without a slug we now call attorney/lawyer. This original concept sold the Constitution to the new republic. The present legal profession has undermined every institution and tradition in America, for the almighty dollar. They are the present fifth column who have brought America to its knees. Find a used copy of Demons of Democracy, the reasons for their actions are clearly delineated in that book. Mark Davis, MD platomd@gmail,com

  2. Mark Davis,MD December 7, 2011
    Author of Demons of Democracy
    Your blog is interesting because it reflects much of the introduction in my book Demons of Democracy. My sentiments could not be reinforced any better, or vice versa. The legal profession’s popularity is at all time low. With 1.1 million lawyers my research indicates they have caused many of the ills this country presently faces. If I had the money I would give a copy of the book to every American of voting age. America should not place another lawyer in the White House or any position of power. They do not have thw wherewithal, meaning competence, to manage complex organizations. Demons explains in detail why. Thank you for the opportunity to state my thoughts.

  3. Anon said:

    “The only person who hates lawyers more than a layman is a lawyer.”

    Not being a lawyer, I’ll defer to your observation.

    But for the record, I’m guessing that miscreant MDs rank pretty darn high on your esquire hater list.

  4. Rafflaw, Thanks.

    But my layer now (Surovell was 20 years in the past) is only handling a small matter for me and the three big matters that remain, I have to handle myself because there’s no money and no time, thanks to what the unethical ones did.

    The real issue is not money, in some cases, I think. Fried Frank took my case pro bono! I found out that they had decided to take my case in order to come up with the result they wanted — which happened to be the opposite of what I wanted. Their motivations? I cannot figure that one out. All they had to say, if they didn’t want to represent me, was “no.” No loss for them, none for me.

    It occurs to me after needing lawyers for 30 years that it is more about power than about money. Naturally, therefore, there is more danger; one has more to lose.

    A dear friend of mine who is a lawyer (and a liberal blogger) commented once, when I suggested that law school had somehow dehumanized a lot of people, “But you know we SELF-SELECT for LAW SCHOOL.”

    That took me aback.

    When you realize how much of “the law” is just a fraud, you come to see how awfully wrong many lawyers can go and still do well, and imagine themselves really doing good, too. In fact, in a negotiating session I had with lawyers who seriously messed up, I felt like there was some kind of gross cognitive disconnect because they were essentially saying, “We’re not going to discuss what we did; we are only going to discuss that you don’t get a penny from us.”

    So it comes back to this: We are a society founded not on accountability but on liability. Very few people can make lawyers liable for anything, so they do not have to be accountable.

    It’s just Hell to need one.

  5. Oro Lee,

    I’m going to download it today and look forward to reading it. Thank you.

  6. Every lawyer I have chosen, I have ensured they first had either military service or public service in their early career. One lawyer that has done an excellent job for my family I initially selected because he had spent eight years in the Marines as a defense attorney. Another fine, fair, attorney I have used for business ran the white collar crime division in the D.A.s office for years before she entered private practice.

    I want to know my lawyer is not only motivated by money. Extended public service is an indicator that has worked well, at least for me.

  7. With out comment,but what did we expect ?:

    “Super Congress’s End Run Around Democracy Fizzles”

  8. Mike S.

    ” Many running for the nomination in the Republican party are not just looking to return us to the past, but to the 16th Century.”


  9. Mike — re the John Dean book. Dean consulted with Dr. Altemeyer before he wrote the book. From pages 1-2 of Altemeyer’s ebook:

    “In the fall of 2005 I found myself engaged, most unexpectedly, in a heavy
    exchange of emails with the man who had blown the whistle on Watergate, John Dean. He was writing a book about ‘conservatives without conscience’ — which the late Senator Barry Goldwater was to have co-authored. Dean, Goldwater, and others with solid Republican credentials had been alarmed by the capture of the Grand Old Party by the Religious Right and its seemingly amoral leaders. Dean was plowing through the social science literatures on conservatism and religion to see what perspective academics could offer his analysis, and eventually he ran across my name.

    “. . . John Dean was reading everything I had written and pummeling me with insightful questions for months on end. I had died and gone to heaven. And since John’s best-selling book, Conservatives Without Conscience had used my research to help explain how America was going to the devil, he thought I should write an easy-read, non-technical account of what I have found[.]”

    And you don’t have to buy Altemeyer’s book, or his follow up work like the Tea-Party stuff. It’s free to download at the website of the University of Manitoba.


  10. A story for you, Otteray Scribe:

    My son was maybe 7, and as we walked home from his school we discussed the upcoming change in time due to daylight savings. He listened to me for a few minutes and then challenged: “Hey WAIT A MINUTE, you can’t just DO THAT to TIME!”

    I said, “We aren’t actually doing anything TO time, we’re changing what we call it. We call it seven in the morning one day, and the next day, we call the same time ‘six in the morning’ instead. So long as we all agree together to do that, there’s no harm done.”

    He walked along deep in thought for a minute and then faced off against me, dropped to a sort of racing stance, pointed at me, frowned, and said:

    “That’s something like a SUPERSTITION!”

    Anon Nurse: for you. You say “everyone hates lawyers until they need one.” I”m the opposite. I loved lawyers until I needed them. Oh my!

    Here are a few of the reasons I am with the “haters” [And mind you, some of my best friends are lawyers, and I mean that, and I don’t hide these feelings from them, and they still give me soup when I’m sick.]

    1. I have had lawyers actually tell me that I will LOOK BAD if I present my own position in court, so to LOOK GOOD I should give up some of my demands before I even start.

    2. I have had a lawyer tell me that the adversary was crazy and everything he said was wrong but I shouldn’t oppose him very vigorously.

    3. I have had a lawyer share my information with others without my permission and then mention it months later as if it was funny.

    4. I have had a lawyer tell me that he wouldn’t represent me any more if I asked my friends what they thought about his strategy.

    5. I recently had very well known and prestigious lawyers, the firm Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson in fact, DISMISS MY OWN CASE SECRETLY without my knowledge or permission, hide it from me for six months, cause me thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars in damages, and then insult me when I tried to find out why. I’m not ashamed to divulge this; my attorney/client privilege with them is gone since I have had to sue them for malpractice and fraud.

    In short, the whole lawyer-hatred thing is not really about individual desires for any philosophica condition in the world, in my opinion. Some people hate lawyers because certain lawyers (never a very big sample but who, in this world, can afford to have a BIG SAMPLE of lawyers representing them?) have just plain done them wrong, done them dishonest, played them for fools, taken advantage, robbed them, cheated them, thrown them under a bus, and walked away calling their own clients stupid and deserving of such treatment. It doesn’t matter if I want authoritarian rule or freedom or “freedom” or even the rule of my Lord and Master, but if someone represents me and takes unto himself all the power that representation gives him (and more) and screws me up, do I not hate him?

    Or to put it in a more lyrical way:

    If you stick it to us, do we not bleed?
    Do we not shriek and fuss and complain?
    Do we not yell at you, get discarded like used kleenex,
    Do we not resent that you got our money or our trust and dumped on us?
    Do we not wish the various “Attorney grievance boards” were more than political pooh pooh stations meant to protect attorneys from those they have devastated and destroyed?

    I have needed lawyers for 30 years because of a vexatious litigator whose obsession is destroying me because I saw his feet of clay. In all those lawyers I had and who got $187,000 away from me (and I am only a secretary, when I am working, and when I am not working, I am less than a secretary), one of them from the past (Rob Surovell, from Fairfax, Virginia) was decent, honest, hard-working and loyal, plus ethical. One of them that I now have hired (Paul Jorgensen from Middletown, Maryland) is NOW decent, honest, hard-working, and loyal, plus ethical. In between there have been a dozen liars, frauds, collaborators, unethical types, unscrupulous types, and of course, the crowning glory, a young graduate of George Washington University who was an associate with Fried Frank who committed absolute perfidy. Yes, I would say I hate lawyers. I would defend my reasons as not being related to any deep-seated or disrespectable desire to be dominated, bullied, or to any other emotionally disturbed motivation. They just have too much power to dishonor and abuse their customers. They sell too many people down the river. The numbers of the decent versus the atrocious is just too small a number. The risks are too high.

    All that is strictly personal. Good posting, thank you.

  11. Mike,

    Your best bet would be to check out the book John Dean wrote on the subject called “Conservatives Without Conscience”

    Here’s part 3 of a 3 part essay on the topic (contains links to parts 1 and 2)

    The Impact of Authoritarian Conservatism On American Government: Part Three in a Three-Part Series


    1. Bob,
      Thank you for removing me of Dean’s book. It was one of those cases of meant to read but didn’t. I’ll check out the essays and maybe get the book. His viewpoint is invaluable, in the been there, done that sense.

  12. Eniobob,

    Those stats on lawyers in Congress to me aback. I would have thought the percentages to be much higher. Also re: the Newt quote, it really delineates the kind of people that are destroying our country. I would have thought that child labor laws were a settled issue for at least 100 years. Many running for the nomination in the Republican party are not just looking to return us to the past, but to the 16th Century.

  13. “Mike, I love ya man, but if you think your post adequately describes why people hate lawyers, well you need to put the bong down.”


    With all due respect, providing a tome on the subject was never my intent as indicated by my last paragraph:

    “I wrote this as a personal perspective and as such some may find fault with the evidence I’ve presented. My intent, however, was personal, not evidentiary and I seek to merely explain my personal respect for lawyers, the Law and the Constitution. I hope to elicit your critiques and opinions about my perception that lawyers are generally now held in low esteem by many of the people. Do you think this is so and if you do, do you think this low esteem is merited and why?”

  14. A lawyer friend of mine likes to say that many people hate lawyers until they need one.

    (I’ve posted this before, I believe… Repeating myself… too often, these days… 🙂 )

  15. “By the author — “OK, what’s this book about?”

    Oro Lee,

    Thank you for sharing the link about “The Authoritarians”. It’s a book I’d be interested in buying. My sense that there is a strain needing to follow authority that runs through humans, perhaps genetically, is not an original one to me, but merely my synthesizing many sources to the point where I lose track of who informed me of what. I’ll be interested in reacquainting myself with the academic thinking on this theory.

    “MS — here’s my take. People get into conflict situations. Because of associated negative consequences, they can’t just go shoot the other fellow or take whatever they want . They gotta hire a lawyer.”

    You well describe the “mechanics” of why lawyers are both needed by and frustrating to their clients. The problem is that conflict resolution is a difficult task given who we humans are. I personally have been badly dealt with by lawyers twice in my life. However, I ascribe that to those individuals baser natures. Just as many car dealers are crooks, many others actually don’t try to cheat you. What I assert though, is that even with its imperfections arising from human nature, a well thought out and maintained legal system is essential to negating tyranny.

  16. Nal, (I know Nal hasn’t commented on this thread but hopefully Nal reads this thread 😉 )

    There is a paper out there by Carrie Menkel-Meado from
    Georgetown Law Faculty Publications entitled “The Lawyer’s Role(s) in Deliberative Democracy” that I found extremely interesting. If you have the time, please tell me what you think.


    “Consider, if you will, the recent suggestion (published before the election of 2000 debacle) that Abigail Adams urged her husband to suggest to Thomas Jefferson, when the outcome of the 1796 election was still uncertain, that a coalition government of Federalists and Republicans should be formed. At least according to historian Joseph Ellis, John Adams made such a proposal to Jefferson who considered it and then turned it down when advised by James Madison that Jefferson’s role was now to lead his party rather than to do business with “the other side.” As Adams’ Vice President, Jefferson retired to Monticello to plan the next competitive election. Imagine how different our governing structures might have turned out if history had given us a different set of actions in that all important formative time. See
    JOSEPH ELLIS, FOUNDING BROTHERS 179-83 (2000). Could we have had “coalition” governments with our non-Parliamentary structures? “

  17. Tony C.,

    Thanks…I have found that there are snobs in every walk of life…Professional or otherwise….

  18. I am not a lawyer. From a personal perspective, lawyers have done far more for my family than I can ever repay. I have paid over $120,000 to lawyers in my life for family related issues, and IMO it has been worth it: in four separate incidents, lawyers have saved four young lives from being destroyed as a result, once in a protracted, multi-year battle.

    Of course, on the other side of the court there were always lawyers apparently striving to fight what was right.

    Lawyers are like guns, they save lives, whether that save is deserved or not, they can destroy lives, whether the destruction is deserved or not.

    They can be heroes or villains. To me, the deeper issue is technicalities in the law that let obviously guilty criminals go free. I don’t think anybody has a problem with lawyers until bullshit thwarts justice. That is the problem to fix, (and a very difficult problem to fix).

    The lawyers are not the problem, and in many cases, lawyering up is the only solution.

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