If I were to ask a lawyer to tell me an embarrassing story, I would probably end up with a 50 page double-spaced brief on my desk — written in size-13, Century Schoolbook or Courier New font, and formally bound with a red cover in order to formally indicate that this brief was a response to my request. This brief would consist of a solid two pages of story and another 58 pages explaining that although the two pages of story seem embarrassing on the surface, it was, in fact, paramount in winning 84.3 cases. Also, there would probably be a disclaimer on the first page warning me that if I were to disclose this story with anyone other than the lawyer without the lawyer’s permission, I would be promptly sued for defamation and might face punitive damages that would result from this offensive and unlawful unilateral action of sharing highly personal information about a private individual.
All of which is to say that, after just five weeks of studying the legal system, I’m beginning to think that lawyers may suffer from intellectual insecurity.
Perhaps as a result, legal culture demands that lawyers maintain an aura of professionalism, among other things by using a lot of legalese. But professionalism at its core is a simple idea: that lawyers should be able to get things done after spending a barely justifiable amount of money and time learning a specialized set of knowledge. Yes, getting things done may entail reading up on one’s legalese, but even more importantly, it requires translating, or at least interpreting, this legalese to the client in order to help them.
When the legal system does not dedicate enough resources to do so, I believe that the legal system fails its people. From my experiences these past two weeks, the legal system is at best, unwelcoming, and at worst hostile, to those who do not understand it. Take, for example, the Ramsey County Law Library. Why is it located on the 18th floor when most of the elevators only go up to the 17th floor? That’s like telling your kid at dinner that he can have ice cream after finishing his broccoli, but hiding the ice cream at the back of the freezer in the basement at his grandmother’s house in Nebraska.
I guess I had two jokes.