You kind of want to avoid them, but attorneys have become ever less avoidable in today’s society. And working at what? Oh, jousting on this, that and the other contentious matter, where so much willy-nilly involves them and their acumen.
Staying first with the negative, and maybe in a clichéd manner, I’m sure some have heard the following jest, or variations: Where St. Peter calls Satan regarding a hole in the wall to the heavenly side, and threatens to get an attorney. Satan laughs, saying he won’t find any up there! Only below…
Sure there are “cons” regarding this extensive aggregation, starting with financial ones, as many unfortunately know. Another is the sheer bloatedness of the sector, continually replenished by large infusions from numerous law schools.
Are there, however, good attorneys? And vitally important ones? No question. When you have to go up against “heat” on the other side, is it useful to have a strong, well-prepared legal beagle or several on yours? For sure. Are they therefore a kind of necessary evil? In today’s ever-growing “lawyerocracy,” I guess one could put it this way.
So more positively and sans hairsplitting, I’ve decided to highlight one recent example associated with a super-publicized case all know about, having to do with the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, and of course relating to the tragic death of George Floyd.
If you caught the closing arguments in that trial of Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s defense lawyer, you were watching something distinguished. Within a David and Goliath sort of situation, Nelson was facing off against a team of over a dozen on the prosecutorial side, a posse of “experts” called, plus a volatile, extortionate, set-to-burn street atmosphere outside, its denizens collectively inflicting a kind of potential blackmail upon jurors, i.e., to decide on an all-counts guilty verdict. Or else …
Up against all that, Chauvin’s attorney seemed calm, forthright, logical and painstaking in trying (against the odds) to sketch all factors involved in Floyd’s death, and which he felt shouldn’t be discounted within a multi-dimensional context. Some of those strands? General police instructions, a crowd that had menaced Chauvin and cohorts with curses and insults, not only affecting them, but inhibiting EMS aid, and Floyd’s own adrenaline dangerously spiked, too. In addition, there was the latter’s previous criminal record.
Nelson strongly emphasized the often-discounted but lethal effects of both meth and fentanyl in Mr. Floyd’s system, which depressed pulmonary functions and were especially dangerous for someone with hypertension (Floyd’s blood pressure shooting way up at the time). Not to mention his enlarged heart and arteries dangerously occluded (one to 90%, another 75). Only the Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Baker, stressed all this, emphasizing “cardio-pulmonary arrest” as a cause of death, in concert with what Chauvin had inflicted. And he was riddled for it.
But Nelson pushed forward anyway, truly brave, and even magisterial within a challenging setting. He was trying his best to make sense of all relevant detail before a jury that should have been sequestered, and couldn’t have been impervious to an environment of threats galore, as well as much background one-sidedness on a variety of TV networks and many other media outlets.
Back to our main theme: Are there real perils when we inhabit, as we now seem to do, a kind of lawyerocracy? Of course. For one thing, too many attorneys end up as politicians, and often with biases. For another there is a current “sue-mania” for each little slip on every floor, sidewalk or swath of grass, and which can cripple businesses. And malpractice suits, hugely driving up medical costs. And a slew of bitter, contentious divorces where meters keep running, purposely it often feels, and fees can soar into the stratosphere.
And yet: referring again to types like Chauvin’s skilled defender, and other attorneys like him, I have real trouble concluding by knocking all and sundry. The bottom line: this is where we’re now at, and you take the good with the not so good. Back in the day, it was knight against knight. Later there were showdowns at the O.K. Corral and such. Not always fairly done either!
And now we have lawyer versus lawyer, or teams of them, and for good or ill (or both). That situation won’t go away any time soon.
B.B. Singer has taught at several area colleges including Niagara University.