Friday, April 20, 2012

Socrates goes to law school

The legal profession is littered with lawyers and judges that are unprepared to do their jobs.  Some of us are incapable of understanding even the simplest legal doctrines.  Yet others among us have the ability, but simply are not interested in gaining a deep, working knowledge of our craft.  And many of us are just lazy beyond belief.  All of this manifests itself in inefficiencies and astronomical costs – costs that are borne by the litigants and the taxpaying public.

I recently wrote about one such case in Milwaukee where the judge went to great lengths to avoid giving the defendant his trial.  In the process, he completely botched the law, and, twenty-three court hearings and an appeal later, the case was still unresolved.  (Update: after a few more hearings – about thirty in total – the prosecutor finally dismissed the case.)  More recently, defense lawyers in a Racine case had to spend an astronomical amount of time researching, briefing, litigating, and appealing a simple legal issue, just because the prosecutor and the judge didn’t understand (or refused to accept) the law. 

And these examples are far from anomalous; rather, they are common occurrences.  But where does this incompetence, laziness, disinterest, and cavalier disregard for the law come from?  I’ve given it a great deal of thought, and I think we can blame the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates.

Monday, April 9, 2012

What’s going on with the Supreme Court?

Benjamin Barton’s recent empirical study explores the pre-appointment legal experience of our Supreme Court justices.  One of the things Barton looks at is the justices’ actual years of private practice experience, which is defined as the number of years a justice actually served clients, including not just real people, but also corporations and not-for-profits.  It turns out that the current Court has the lowest number of years ever of private practice experience per justice (six years), and two of the justices have never served any client in the practice of law.  And just because a justice may have some experience working in private practice, the experience is typically at a large law firm or corporation, where the justice probably never actually handled a real case (of any kind) from start to finish.