Let’s Kill All The Lawyers

Shakespeare’s line “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” has become something of a rallying cry for those who say there are simply too many lawyers.  But last summer, when I reread Henry IV, I realized that the line had been taken badly out of context.  In fact, Shakespeare is not suggesting that lawyers are bad, but rather that if a monarch or despot wants to destroy our freedoms, then the first thing he should do is kill all the lawyers.

I considered that role of lawyers as protectors of our freedoms this past Saturday as I sat through the Maine Law School graduation at Merrill Auditorium.  No, I did not have a son or daughter in the graduating class.  Rather, I went to hear my good friend from college, Mara Liasson, longtime political correspondent at National Public Radio, speak. 

As Mara quickly informed the crowd, she is not a lawyer (though she confessed to be married to one).  So she drew laughs when, paraphrasing the immortal Admiral James Stockdale, Ross Perot’s running mate in 1992, she asked the assembled graduates and their families, “Who am I?  And what am I doing here?” 

Turns out that Mara, like two of the speakers who preceded her—James Erwin, an employment law attorney at Pierce Atwood who is on the Maine Board of Regents, and Theo Kalikow, the President of the University of Southern Maine—had been reading the same book.  A book called “The Lawyer Bubble,” about the glut of lawyers on the market and whether law schools unnecessarily were admitting too many attorney wannabes and then saddling them with enormous debt and little chance of real job prospects. 

It’s a fair question given that so many law school graduates have had a hard time finding jobs.  And I must admit I was shocked when I learned that a former colleague of mine had left law school $150,000 in debt.  That’s way too much money to owe when you’re 25 years old—and it practically forces law school grads who might want to represent the poor and underprivileged from taking low paying public interest jobs at Legal Aid and the public defender’s office.

Still, the Maine Law graduation moved me.  The 90-odd graduates and their families had good reason to be proud of their accomplishments, and there was hope of a future ahead dedicated to making Maine a better place to live and work.

So, while we can—and should—debate whether we need 90 more lawyers, and whether a legal education has gotten to be too expensive, let’s also remember that the legal profession is the bulwark of our unparalleled free society.  And we can count on the fact that whether all 90 grads ultimately work as attorneys, they will put the skills they learned in law school to good use protecting our freedoms.  Congratulations, Maine Law grads—and welcome to the profession. 

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