Bad Guys with Good PR

(c) 2007 by Romel Bagares

On second thought, lawyers may not be the good guys I've painted them to be – or at least, not the way some interpretations of that (in)famous sentence in Shakespeare's Henry VI, (Part II, IV, ii) would want them to be, at least, in the play: "first thing we do, let us kill all the lawyers."

Number 4

I've said that contrary to popular misconception, these words were uttered not by litigants disgruntled with the slow grind of justice but by conspirators in Cade's Rebellion, who planned to overthrow the English government and put up a virtual dictatorship "Shakespeare," I added with the flourish of a literary historian, "was actually praising the lawyers here as protectors of a system of liberty, who must be eliminated first before such a rebellion could flourish."

I plead guilty to having drawn my arguments from what may have been a biased source. That is actually from a literary judgment made by a former President of the American Bar Association (ABA). Here is what John J. Curtis Jr published in the A BA Journal (September 1990) in regard to the Great Bard's ignominious nine-word tribute to lawyering: "Through the rebels' threat, Shakespeare reminds the groundlings that lawyers, as protectors of that system of ordered liberty, are as much an obstacle to a rebellion that would curtail liberty as any garrisoned castle. Thus, Cade's path to oppression leads inevitably over their bodies..."

The old communication research major in me should have done a little more research. A guy from Harvard law school has convincingly argued otherwise:

First, the conversation between Jack Cade and Dick the Butcher is not a discussion on how to plot to win a rebellion against lawful government. Quite the opposite, Cade is proclaiming what he will do "when I am king, -- as king I will be." When Butcher yells out that the first thing he wants done is to kill all the lawyers, Cade responds, "Nay, that I mean to do," and laments "I was never mine own man" since signing a contract ["scribbled" on parchment by a lawyer and sealed with bee's wax]…

This rings true, from a historical perspective, as a proposal to kill all lawyers was a central feature of the earlier rebellion led by Wat Tyler in 1381, and Shakespeare (never a strict historian) appears to meld the Tyler and Cade uprisings together. As one source has explained, lawyers were targetted in Tyler's Peasants Revolt, because they "enabled landlords to force many labourers to return to the old conditions by finding faults in deeds of manumission " [That is, peasants who had been freed from servitude or serfdom by their masters were returned to bondage, when lawyers found loopholes in the documents that had purportedly freed them.]

Our man from Harvard, who runs – with the help of able conspirators – a terrific blog about ethical lawyering and haikus (see ) then brings in heavy artillery from the BBC website, telling us just what kind of a king Henry VI was:an unpopular king, who imposed crippling taxes resulting in poverty for the people, whilst being accused of extravagant living and corruption in his own court . John Mortimer, an Irishman living in Kent and calling himself Jack Cade, led a rebellion to protest about laws, taxes and extortion of food and goods which kept them poor. The rebels wanted justice and claimed that the King was not keeping to the solemn oaths he had sworn to abide by. One demand was that Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York, (whom Cade claimed as a Mortimer cousin) should be recalled from exile in Ireland and made King instead. Unusually, Cade's followers were not only peasants but also landowners and gentry.

(Ask me about things British, and I'll refer you to the British Broadcasting Corporation). From these accounts, it appears that lawyers in Shakespeare's play did deserve to be hanged in the gallows. For, far from being libertarians, they were actually acting as protectors of an oppressive system of government that was Henry VI's. In short, they were apologists for an evil status quo. So now we all know who all this time has been getting all the good PR, the Shakespearean treatment notwithstanding.

But we can absolve the ABA President for merely having come to the defense of a most-maligned profession. In fairness to the ABA, the lawyer's group has been an ardent defender of civil liberties in the United States under a government bent on cutting corners in the name of a global war against terrorism. The good guys over there do need a pat on the back for all the good work they've been doing. Our man from Harvard himself is not calling for a genocide directed at lawyers, but only for a "stifling of liars." We might as well now add to Mark Twain's perorations against " Lies, damn lies and statistics" a third class of big lies who answers to the title "attorney."

Close to home, in this day and age of la Gloria de Mal, it should be easy to tell who's doing what an honorable lawyer ought to do and who's doing what lawyers Dick the Butcher would like to butcher usually do.

"You see, there are always two sides to the story," is how the neighborhood nitwit would put it. I should now hasten to add that the question is, are lawyers on the right side of the story, telling the story the way it should be told? Well, our man from Harvard says it's all about Professional Responsibility, not Public Relations.

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