Philip K. Howard is back. The lawyer who loves to hate other lawyers has returned, after a six-year hiatus since his last attorney-bashing book.
In a prominently featured op-ed Monday in the Wall Street Journal, Howard, who practices corporate defense law, cunningly found a way to use President Obama’s inaugural call for a “new era of responsibility” to once again argue forcefully against the value of the rule of law.
The threshold problem for our new president, writes Howard, is that “the growth of litigation and regulation has injected a paralyzing uncertainty into everyday choices.” Law and lawyers, he insists, have turned “Yes We Can” into “No You Can’t.”
Who knew that human motivation could be so broadly and easily quashed by the fear of lawsuits?
Helping that little old lady across the street? No way — she might turn around and sue me. Patting a child on the back for a job well done? Nuh-uh -– I’m not going to risk getting sued for fondling children. And doctors providing real care for patients? My god, Howard warns, these days they’re actually ordering medical diagnostic tests just in case not providing a necessary procedure gets them sued and drives up their malpractice insurance payments.
For the past decade, Howard has been distraught about how children can’t play in the playground, teachers can’t teach schoolchildren, doctors can’t treat patients and nobody can provide all the wonderful nurturing help that their true natures would lead them to — if the law would just stop getting in their way.
I can’t help thinking that this all sounds eerily like the attitude of former President George W Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney toward the law when it came to prosecuting their “war on terror.”
United Nations Convention Against Torture? Article III of the Geneva Conventions? U.S. Constitution? Those laws have caused too many problems — they’re restricting our ability to torture people. We need our own lawyers, like John Yoo, to write us memos saying we don’t have to follow those inconvenient restrictions; except that those restrictions were designed to protect the legal rights and freedoms — of other people.
Howard is apparently too busy exercising his own personal freedom railing against lawyers to read the business pages, such as those of the Wall Street Journal, which, each day, document in excruciating detail how the government’s utter failure to enforce a range of laws and to regulate large swaths of the financial industry have led to a near-collapse of the global economy. Or to notice the widespread belief and grave concern — among conservatives, no less — that the government’s $700 billion unregulated, no-strings-attached bailout, which was intended to let major American banks and corporations exercise their free choice in spending public money, hasn’t really worked out that well after all. Citigroup just reportedly spent $50 million of that money on a brand-new corporate jet.
Well, that’s freedom for you. Or rather, for Citigroup executives.
That’s the problem with the lawyer-bashers. It’s not about the lawyers. Howard is a lawyer, and presumably, he has no problem with the 500 or so the other corporate defense lawyers he works with at his firm. (Coincidentally, he’s a partner in the same firm as Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder, who from all indications doesn’t have a problem with law or lawyers.) It’s the law itself that Howard doesn’t like.
But then, if you don’t have law, you just have power.
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