Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Lawyers: traffickers in greed

Jacob Stein's columns in the Washington Lawyer magazine are not to be missed. The latest, which I shared with my class because it hits very close to the mark when you're studying law and rhetoric, discloses a great secret. If law, like literature, is really based on a limited set of plots, what are the key plots in the genre of trial practice?

To get the answer I called a friend who spent the last 30 years trying high-intensity cases of all kinds. He took a detached and, I would say, amusing cynical stance. He came up with this evaluation of the basic legal plots, the reasons why people involve themselves in lawsuits: greed, 60 percent; vindictiveness, 15 percent; irrationality, 10 percent; desperation, 10 percent; and an honest misunderstanding, 5 percent.

Greed, said this expert, even "lurks in the subjects taught in law school." It's why it takes 30 volumes to spell out the law of contracts. The greed of their clients is why so many lawyers tend to have a distorted view of the world. They tend to think it's about money.

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