Column

Like someone who kicks dogs, can anyone who abhors lawyers really be all bad?

Allan Fotheringham July 16 1979
Column

Like someone who kicks dogs, can anyone who abhors lawyers really be all bad?

Allan Fotheringham July 16 1979

Like someone who kicks dogs, can anyone who abhors lawyers really be all bad?

Column

Allan Fotheringham

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. — Henry VI, Part II, Act 4 If any proof were needed that Shakespeare wrote for the common man, to universal themes that withstand the test of centuries, there we are. The man was right there grubbing around with the rest of us, attuned to our very vibrations. Hatred of lawyers is a theme, a bond, an intellectual umbilical cord that pulls us all together. Like dislike of spinach and the inability to understand algebra, it is a very human trait that draws strangers together and unites enemies. Can anyone who abhors lawyers, like someone who kicks dogs and ignores children, really be all bad?

We are faced with this bother once again because of the sad examination of the entrails of the May 22 event that revealed to us the select 282 individuals (among the 23 million possibilities) who will decide our destiny for the next half-decade. Sadly, 63 of them are lawyers. Once again they will provide the single largest professional group in the House of Gas when our newest prime minister gathers the courage to call it into session sometime before the leaves fall. Although they represent something like two-tenths of one per cent of the labor force, lawyers captured 21 per cent of 282 seats. It is perhaps the major reason the country is so dull, so constipated with conversation full of elliptical clauses. For some strai ge reason, Canada has been captured by this smothering embrace of men who talk as if their mouths were full of hot marbles. In neither Britain nor Australia do lawyers play such a dominant role. Is it our frontier tradition, overly respectful of smooth-chinned chaps who can dispense bafflegab and gobbledygook as easily as other people speak English? Probably.

Since Confederation, lawyers have always been the largest occupational group among MPs—about one-third. They have dominated the cabinet: of 242 ministers between 1867 and 1940 (when

we stopped keeping track on account of boredom), 48 per cent were lawyers. The reason for all this, essentially, is the laziness of the electorate. It’s not exactly probity. Every time I get into an argument over the grape with my legal friends, as they foam at the mouth over some recent journalistic outrage, I point out that the last time I checked there were more lawyers in jail than reporters. Pick a year, any year. Pick a jail, any jail. Lawyers, who pass our laws, are always being tossed into the hoosegow. I don’t think it’s because they

can’t read the fine print too good. The problem is that they can read it too well. And are dumb enough to think the rest of us can’t. It is of no consolation to the law schools, of course, but the most prominent crooks of our generation, Nixon, Ehrlichman, Colson, Mitchell, Dean, Liddy, Kalmach all down the line, all were lawyers. If it interests you, there are more lawyers in the state of New York alone than there are in Britain.

My own solution for all this is that lawyers shouldn’t be taken so seriously. Any profession that has to set up a failsafe slush fund (to compensate widows and innocents whom other lawyers have gypped) cannot be regarded completely without a giggle. Do plumbers do that? Dentists? Piano movers? Of course not. Just as Mr. Twain said, “Man is the only animal that blushes.” Or needs to. Lawyers feel compelled to guard society against their own kind.

Who are the politicians who get their fingers caught in the dials by phoning

judges? Lawyers. Who are the politicians who get caught signing signatures not their own? Lawyers. Who are the ones hauled up on contempt-of-court charges? Guess who. It’s strange. Farmers wouldn’t have the imagination. Journalists wouldn’t have the gall. Piano movers wouldn’t have the energy. The lawyer’s problem is that he spends his life staring at the loophole, like a bank teller staring at the cash, and he can’t resist the temptation to see what he can do with it— like a West Point general trained all his life for war, itching to find one (if not found, start one).

The blight, I’m afraid, is increasing. In Lester Pearson’s last Parliament there were 74 lawyers— just short of 30 per cent— and 12 of his ministers were of the breed. In lawyer Trudeau’s first Commons, the legal MPs were at 71 and he had 12 ministers with the sacred degree.

Most of our premiers, naturally, are lawyers. Six of the current crop—and that’s not even counting René Lévesque who set out to be one but dropped out of Laval law school where he wouldn’t stop smoking in class. The law’s loss is tobacco’s gain. In May, the Liberals ran 77 lawyers and elected 31 of them. The Tories shoved 45 into the ballot box and retrieved 28 of them. Easiest to fool, naturally, were the complacent voters of Ontario and Quebec. Ontario elected 22 of 45 legal candidates, Quebec 22 of 35.

The current prime minister, of course, is the most famous law-school dropout in history—one for each ocean. Joe Clark, at both Dalhousie and University of B.C., was bored by law. “Nothing much happens in law school,” he wrote a friend. “There’s a clique of us here now that forms around one meal table to parade wit and long tales.” Not a bad analogy, really, for what he was later to find in his profession of politics dominated by lawyers. He needn’t feel lonely. Trudeau picked 12 lawyers for his first cabinet. Clark, looking the field over in pursuit of representatives of the common man, picked 15.