FRANK GORMAN introduced me to his law club by quoting this from a column I wrote five years ago:
"The University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore law schools should be limited to graduating new lawyers only at the rate old lawyers die, are disbarred, or go to jail." I thought that was lawyer bashing, but from the audience came several soft "hear!-hear!"s.
I suppose lawyers figure the fewer lawyers to compete with, the more business for them. That's logical, but it's wrong. The more lawyers there are, the more legal business there is and the more lawyers earn. And they earn plenty.
President Clinton had to hire a couple of $450-an-hour lawyers. Dan Rostenkowski is spending even more. So is O. J. Simpson.
Most lawyers take the L'Oreal perspective on their high fees. "I'm worth it!" I wonder. Are people better off having a lawyer than not? Well, think about this: In 1963 the Supreme Court ruled that poor people had the right to counsel in state criminal trials. There are four times as many poor people in state prisons today.
Last week, I promised to do some lawyer-bashing in this column. I was motivated by the O. J. Simpson case, where multi-million-dollar-fees lawyers try not to prove he is innocent but that the system is not perfect. If they can spot a few slip-ups on the part of the police, or, later on the part of the prosecutors or trial judge, he goes free. Ah, the majesty of the law!
I'm really not very good at lawyer bashing. Like many editorial writers, I'm an on-the-one-hand-this-but-on-the-other-hand-that type. I know that most lawyers are not Alan Dershowitzes or Robert Shapiros. I know that the prosecutors like Marcia Clark who try to protect society from criminals are also lawyers.
For real lawyer bashing, it takes an H. L. Mencken. He wrote this in 1924: "Is there any reason to believe that, among lawyers, the best are much better than the worst? I can find none. All the extravagance and incompetence of our present Government is due, in the main, to lawyers, and, in part at least, to good ones. They are responsible for nine-tenths of the useless and vicious laws that now clutter the statute-books, and for all the evils that go with the vain attempt to enforce them. Every Federal judge is a lawyer. So are most Congressmen. Every invasion of the plain rights of the citizen has a lawyer behind it. If all lawyers were hanged tomorrow, and their bones sold to a mah jong factory, we'd all be freer and safer, and our taxes would be reduced by almost half."
There were about 700,000 lawyers in America in 1989 when I wrote that column about a zero population growth for them. Today there are about 850,000. Well, back to my summer reading, Chapter 29 of Dan Quayle's book "Standing Firm." That's the chapter entitled "Too Many Lawyers," in which he estimates America's legal bills at $300 billion a year.