Just as the military is supposed to protect us from invasion and the police from criminals, lawyers are supposed to protect us from predatory misuse of civil or criminal law or from legal injustice. Because of their quasi-official role, they have historically regarded themselves rather like doctors, members of a “helping” profession bound to a demanding code of ethics.
Until 1977, lawyers could not legally advertise. They could set themselves up as partnerships but not corporations. If a lawyer built up a huge firm from scratch, he was not able to sell his interest or otherwise profit from it after retirement. The law was supposed to be a calling, not a business.
There are still vestiges of the old legal ethics, but much of it is gone. Most lawyers now regard law as a business. If so it is not your run-of-the-mill business. When it is profit maximizing, it is often feeding parasitically off other successful businesses. In addition to the traditional services—drawing up wills, contracts, court defense—some lawyers are now engaged in what might be described as legal “shakedowns,” or in providing “protection” services against such “shakedowns.” Moreover, there are so many laws now, and they are often so vague or unintelligible, that almost anyone might need “protection”— if not against predatory lawyers, then against ambitious “on-the-make” public prosecutors.
If lawyers become predators themselves in addition to protectors, that puts all of us at risk. If predatory lawyers form alliances with public officials, that is even more dangerous. If in some instances courts collude with them, that destroys the very fabric of a society. Examples follow.
Some of the most useful work on what he calls Trial Lawyers, Inc. has been done by James R. Copland of the Manhattan Institute. Copland writes about asbestos:
Much of modern asbestos litigation has involved the filing of lawsuits by individuals who aren’t sick [from exposure to the product] against companies that never made the product. . . . As recently noted by Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs of the Second Circuit US Court of Appeals, judges in asbestos litigation have all too often processed massive caseloads “without regard to whether the claims themselves are based on fraud, corrupt experts, [and] perjury.” . . . A Pennsylvania judge was convicted of soliciting bribes from attorneys with asbestos dockets before him.358