Legal Ethics and Reform

U.S. Economic Change Will Force The Adoption of a Civil Law Model for Most of America’s Disputes

Globalization has put the bottom two thirds of the American population on the economic skids toward subsistence living. At the same time the top 1/3 is generally doing better and their wages are rising. The good old middle class is slowly disappearing. Lawyers who like to think of themselves as being in the top one third are striving mightily to keep their incomes rising, but the citizenry from whom most of their cases come is increasingly unable to afford their services. You have the explosive situation where many people have disputes that need to be sorted out but the mechanism offered by society to sort out these disputes is manned by lawyers who are demanding $150 or $200 per hour.

This situation is made more explosive by the widespread presence in our country of foreign and native born business men who have traveled widely and know there is a popular legal system, called the Civil Law system, that provides for quicker, cheaper, and generally better dispute resolution. The combination of: (1) great need by many people, (2) spreading knowledge of something better, and (3) an entrenched class of functionaries who demand greater fees and resist change - is the stuff that can trigger revolutions. In America, the Supreme Court could impose availability of Civil Law type courts for small tort and equity cases (of say less than $150,000 in actual damages) but Justice Scalia says it has to come from the elected branch (ie Congress) where half the members are lawyers. Scalia obviously doesn’t want to deal with this hot potato.

Recently Justices Kennedy, Bryer, and O’Connor visited the American Bar Association November meeting to plea for greater effort by the Bar Associations and Media outlets supporting our legal system. They argued that criticism of American Style Rule of Law is rising, and they argued that a aggressive PR campaign can reverse this trend. As pointed out above the economic forces are such that no amount of PR is likely to stop people from demanding something better; particularly when knowledge of that better system is spreading.

Perhaps there will arise a large number of lawyers who take vows to help stressed lower middle class people with their disputes for $10 or $20 per hour. Such a group of dedicated lawyers, modeling themselves on the Peace Corps or the Jesuits, might save the current Common Law system because such a group would give disputing individuals each making say $9.00 per hour access to the our courts with trained legal representatives at their sides. Speaking of saintly activity in the law, the patron saint of civil lawyers is St. Yves who provided legal services to the not so well off in Northern France. The patron saint of Common Law lawyers, on the other hand, is St. Thomas More who did much of his lawyering amongst royalty at the Court of Henry VIII of England.

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