Respectful Insolence

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There are times when I see a quote by someone who is clearly extremely intelligent, but the quote is so utterly dumb, so devoid of any evidence that a single functioning neuron was behind it, that I can only shake my head in disbelief. Thanks to Dr. Val, Dr. Wes, and Walter Olson, I’ve found one more such quote. It’s by a trial lawyer named Gerry Spence, who was awarded the CAOC Lifetime Achievement Award and bestowed this gem of brain-sucking stupidity on the assembled throng of lawyers attending the awards ceremony:

“We have to redefine who we are: We are the most important people in America,” Spence said. “There is no other profession in America that fights for freedom, that fights for what America is about, that fights for justice for ordinary people.”

To make his point, Spence — founder of the Trial Lawyers College, which trains lawyers to be more effective in the courtroom — said to imagine that all of the doctors and healers somehow vanished.

“I want to ask you which would be more important: If all of the doctors in the country somehow disappeared or all the trial lawyers in America somehow disappeared?” he asked. “We can live without medical care, but we cannot live without justice.”

I realize that there are those out there who think I’m more than a bit full of myself, but, really, mine is but an ant–nay, an amoeba!–compared to the elephantine ego that belongs to Mr. Spence and is coupled with a level of self-aggrandizement normally seen only by ancient Pharaohs who built enormous monuments to themselves. Does he really believe there are “no other people” who fight for what America is about or for justice for ordinary people? No other people besides trial lawyers? I suppose he does, although he leaves out the bit about the 30% or more they take off the top. As for living without medical care, Mr. Spence is certainly welcome to do so if he thinks so little of the contribution of physicians to public health. All I can say is: Good luck with that.

As for which profession is more important, doctors or lawyers, well arguing over that is what makes this stupid burn even hotter. In any case, given all the primary care doctors leaving the profession, thanks to declining reimbursement and rising expenses (including malpractice insurance), Mr. Spence may get the opportunity to test his hypothesis sooner than he thinks.

Comments

  1. #1 Ramel
    November 24, 2008

    Hmmm, lets see…. People of more value to society than lawyers…….

    Doctors, nurses, paramedics, medical reaserchers, engineers, road workers, farmers, factory workers, bin men, teachers, teaching assistants, health inspectors, police, firemen, charity workers, social workers, accountants, artists, traffic wardens, the Mayor of London (OK, that one was a joke), bomb disposal technician, postal workers, IT workers, prostitutes, musicians, the unemployed, and drug dealers.

  2. #2 Andysnat
    November 24, 2008

    Surely, Boris is worth a great deal in terms of comedy value?

  3. #3 Ranson
    November 24, 2008

    I recall a cartoon where lawyers were forced to share in the fate of their clients. Success reaped the usual. Failure, on the other hand, could mean sharing in jail time, payment awarded damages, even execution.

    At times, I could get behind a system like that.

  4. #4 Rogue Epidemiologist
    November 24, 2008

    The quote is stupid, yes, but I would nominate it for EPIC FAIL.

    I, for one, would love to live without trial lawyers.

  5. #5 Warren
    November 24, 2008

    “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

    – Henry VI pt. 2, act 4, scene 2.

  6. #6 cwfong
    November 24, 2008

    If there was any justice that we could live with, there would be no adversarial system attempting to administer it. And no trial lawyers to decry its lack.

  7. #7 Joshua Zelinsky
    November 24, 2008

    Lawyers are important and doctors are important too. They are important in very different ways. I don’t want to live in a society without either. As to which I’d remove if I had to take away one? Probably take away lawyers because 1) I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for doctors and 2) there have been judicial systems without lawyers.

  8. #8 Marilyn Mann
    November 24, 2008

    The quote is stupid, I agree. If it makes you feel any better, I am a lawyer and I spend a lot of time talking to and interacting with lawyers, although most are not trial lawyers. I have never in my 20 years of practicing law heard any similar statement from another attorney. It’s just ridiculous.

  9. #9 Flex
    November 24, 2008

    No way are the lawyers as important as the telephone sanitizers!

  10. #10 Oskar
    November 24, 2008

    I´m going to have to call Poe on that, I mean live with out medical care that is a bit to far gone.

  11. #11 stavros
    November 24, 2008

    Lawyers?!? LAWYERS?!? I have a rotten apple in my kitchen that is probably more useful than the majority of the trial lawyers. It can still be used as a fertilizer I guess. Remind me someone, what is a trial lawyer good for?

  12. #12 Joseph C.
    November 24, 2008

    What about the trial lawyers that work for the other side? You know, the ones that are “just representing their clients”. Fact is trial lawyers work for injustice just as often as they work for justice.

    Net work for justice from trial lawyers = ZERO

  13. #13 Orac
    November 24, 2008

    Lawyers are important and doctors are important too. They are important in very different ways. I don’t want to live in a society without either.

    I actually agree. Both are important and both are needed, just in different ways. However, to say that trial lawyers are “the most important people in America” is just as ridiculous as saying that “doctors are the most important people in America.” Also, as people point out, most trial lawyers don’t work for the oppressed and downtrodden (and the ones who do I have nothing but the utmost respect for); they work for people who can afford to pay them, as in corporations and businesspeople. In any case, if I had to give up one or the other, it would be a no-brainer; the lawyers would go.

  14. #14 StM
    November 24, 2008

    It would be interesting to turn that around and ask who does more damage, doctors or trial lawyers. While I think that net, both are a benefit to society, even just the philosophical question of which kills more people, medical malpractice or restrictions on care caused by excessive litigation, shows that even in the most favorable light neither is an unbounded good.

    Warren: For the Nth time, the person who says that line is participating in a plot to overthrow the government, and fears that the legal system is the most dangerous obstacle to his plan. He wants to kill them so they will not stop him doing something wrong.

  15. #15 Dr Aust
    November 24, 2008

    Was he confusing “important” with “expensive”..?

  16. #16 Marilyn Mann
    November 24, 2008

    One more thing — Gerry Spence is 79 years old. In view of his advanced age, maybe we should cut him some slack, or at least not take him too seriously.

  17. #17 Koray
    November 24, 2008

    btw, your “stop Jenny McCarthy” link on the side looks split at Stop.

  18. #18 Art
    November 24, 2008

    stavros – “Lawyers?!? LAWYERS?!? I have a rotten apple in my kitchen that is probably more useful than the majority of the trial lawyers. It can still be used as a fertilizer I guess. Remind me someone, what is a trial lawyer good for?”

    Perhaps your skin color and/or socioeconomic status is such that it is highly unlikely that you will never find yourself under prosecution by the state but if you ever find yourself under prosecution you may have a chance to find out how a talented trial lawyer might be useful. Trial lawyers don’t just defend the guilty. They also defend the innocent. Lacking a lawyer and going into a trial your entering into a battle that will determine your fate and freedom unarmed.

    The fallacy is that all justice flows solely from the actions of just trial lawyers. It is only the combination of prosecution, defense and judges that allow for even the approximation of something resembling justice to be had.

  19. #19 Alligator
    November 24, 2008

    This really makes me wince; I’m in law school.

    I recall a cartoon where lawyers were forced to share in the fate of their clients. Success reaped the usual. Failure, on the other hand, could mean sharing in jail time, payment awarded damages, even execution.

    At times, I could get behind a system like that.

    Actually, this kind of system would just eliminate defense attorneys, which would probably exacerbate the “Unhappy? Litigate that frown upside down!” culture.

    If I had to choose between doctors and lawyers, I’d choose to keep doctors. You could improvise a way to protect your rights much more easily than you could learn to do an appendectomy through trial and error.

    Still, I’d rather not lose either group — and not just because I’d like to have a job when I graduate. Our rights are secured through litigation, like it or not. Look at how the ACLU functions.

  20. #20 Joe Shelby
    November 24, 2008

    I almost wonder if he’s rehearsing for having a session in front of congress to argue that trial lawyers should get a bailout check from the feds?

  21. #21 Alligator
    November 24, 2008

    I should have made this completely clear in my last post: Spence’s comments are absurd and embarrassing. I was not defending them in any way, only trying to salvage some dignity for my future profession.

  22. #22 Patrick
    November 24, 2008

    Seems to me that the medical profession also keeps a lot more folks employed than a trial lawyer does. Hospitals and clinics versus law practices, I sincerely hope his comment wasn’t made during the current ongoing economic crisis.

  23. #23 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT, OM
    November 24, 2008

    Old Gerry. He’s the fringed leather jacket and cowboy gear wearing lawyer from Jackson, WY. He’s always been around but was really put into public spotlight during the first OJ trial.

    The quote doesn’t surprise me. He’s a egomaniac blowhard who was annoying when i lived in Jackson and every time I’ve seen him since on TV.

  24. #24 notmercury
    November 24, 2008

    What do you call 5000 dead lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

  25. #25 Antonio
    November 24, 2008

    “We can live without medical care, but we cannot live without justice.”

    That is true. We can live without medical care.

    We sure could be 30 or 40 years old before dying but, we can live those 30 or 40 years with a lot of justice.

    Best regards

  26. #26 The Perky Skeptic
    November 24, 2008

    Look upon his works, ye mighty, and despair.

    (@notmercury: A good start? :D)

  27. #27 Alligator
    November 24, 2008

    I’m not anti-doctor, I just think doctors should be safer. A friend of mine — who was loving, engaged and totally normal before — became withdrawn and stopped developing mentally after she went to a doctor. Of course, no one can prove that going to the doctor caused this but there has to be some connection! Until we can figure out why this sort of thing keeps happening, we should get rid of doctors. And use lawyers to do it.

    /parody

  28. #28 Joseph C.
    November 24, 2008

    We sure could be 30 or 40 years old before dying but, we can live those 30 or 40 years with a lot of justice.

    You’d only make it to that age range if you didn’t succumb to all those childhood diseases you wouldn’t be vaccinated against or die in childbirth. The average, I presume, would be much lower than that. Justice isn’t very useful if you’re dead.

  29. #29 Enkidu
    November 24, 2008

    Let’s see…. when my daughter was born 13 weeks early at 2 lbs, 1 oz, a lawyer would help her how, exactly? She surely is not someone who could live without medical care, but I guess she doesn’t count in Mr. Spence’s view. (BTW she is 10 months old and a healthy 16 lb now, thanks to modern medicine!)

  30. #30 LW
    November 24, 2008

    Strangely, as modern medical practice developed, life expectancies rose worldwide, the effect being more pronounced the more the local health care system adopted modern medical practice, even in places that were deprived of the benefits of the American Trial Lawyers Association.

  31. #31 cwfong
    November 24, 2008

    Antonio:
    Justice supposedly has some association with the determination of truth, which can hardly be expected to emanate from the winner of a best liar’s contest.
    Marilyn Mann:
    Does a liar become less dangerous as he ages, given that old Spence and young Spence have both been singing the same old tune?

  32. #32 Sid Schwab
    November 24, 2008

    My brother, a very high-power corporate litigator, once said he wished he’d gone into medicine. In his work, he said, much of the time if the attorneys would just walk out and leave the parties to work things out, it would happen quicker, cheaper, and more fairly.

    I, on the other hand, have opined more than once that the health of the country would be more adversely affected if garbage collectors disappeared than if doctors did.

  33. #33 Lucas McCarty
    November 24, 2008

    The guy should maybe put the rest of his body where his mouth is.

    Don’t think about that literally. A human roboros just isn’t possible.

  34. #34 Bill from Dover
    November 24, 2008

    Ain’t even close. How many “whadya call a dead doctor at the”(top/bottom) of the (your choice here) wrapped in (chains/ropes/whatever?”) jokes ya heard?

  35. #35 marion
    November 25, 2008

    Marilyn Mann: Actually, I think his age gives him *less* of an excuse. A 79-year-old healthy enough to travel by plane and speak in front of a large gathering with reasonable coherence almost definitely has had the benefit of far more medical care than, say, I have as a 30something. “We” can live without medical care? Well, *I* could, for now. I have a feeling that Mr. Adams would find himself in a far different situation without access to modern medicine…

  36. #36 spudbeach
    November 25, 2008

    Like most outrageous ideas*, it has a small kernel of truth deep down inside. In this case, a very small kernel.

    Lawyers are the people that direct the enormous power of government at specific people. Before you get the death penalty, a lawyer will convince a court you deserve it. Before you win a million bucks in a lawsuit, a lawyer will convince a court you deserve it. So yes, in a way, lawyers are important, if we want to have a chance in a million that the awesome powers of government will be directed responsibly. There is no justice, only due process, and without lawyers, there is precious little of due process.

    On the other hand, doctors, farmers, scientists, etc. help control the real world, and keep the physical world from overwhelming us. Teachers keep the future from overwhelming us. Insurance agents and workers keep risk from overwhelming us. To say that we can live with government taken care of but none of the other needs taken care of is ridiculous. (Reminds me of Douglas Adams bit where all everybody does is sit around and have a meeting about what needs to be done, without ever doing anything.)

    Unfortunately, our society may reward lawyers overmuch and other professions (family practice docs, farmers, trash collectors) too little. Government should the final, not the first, answer to a problem, and controlling the government should be burden, not a windfall. Comments like those from Gary Spence just make it worse.

    *Yes, there is a teensy kernel of truth in homeopathy and Reiki as well. Just having somebody treat you like your pain is important makes if feel better. Of course, being able to do something for it would be best.

  37. #37 mad the swine
    November 25, 2008

    “[E]ven just the philosophical question of which kills more people, medical malpractice or restrictions on care caused by excessive litigation, shows that even in the most favorable light neither is an unbounded good.”

    The trouble, though, is that malpractice is a bug, while excessive litigation is a feature.

    That is to say, under normal circumstances no doctor wants to commit an act of malpractice; the moral, ethical, financial, and professional consequences are all negative. The same cannot be said for litigation, as long as lawyers are paid by the hour, and as long as imbecilic juries offer up contingency fee jackpots.

  38. #38 nanoAl
    November 25, 2008

    You guys are missing the point. We all know its Engineers who run the show :)

  39. #39 age'o'garbazh
    November 25, 2008

    If there weren’t any lawyers, JB Handley wouldn’t have anyone to turn to when he’s called on his shit. Wouldn’t that be tragic?

  40. #40 Ranson
    November 25, 2008

    @ Koray

    The Jenny McCarthy thing is deliberate. By doing it that way, the link is connected to a search for “Jenny McCarthy” rather than “Stop Jenny McCarthy”. More likely to reach the parties it needs to that way.

  41. #41 george.wiman
    November 25, 2008

    I’d have to go along with the observation about Spence’s age. He is very passionate about protecting individuals against corporate and government power and his tongue is probably beginning to wobble. But I’ve read several of his books and if you were in a tight spot, someone like his younger self you would want in your corner.

    And yes, it is a stunningly stupid thing to say, from Spence or anyone else.

  42. #42 marilove
    November 25, 2008

    If I was in a horrible car accident had HAD to choose between a doctor — which would make me healthy again — or a lawyer — which would win me millians in a law suit, but which would not make me healthy again, and I would not have access to another doctor, even with those millions — I’d choose a doctor in a heart beat.

    Health wins any day.

  43. #43 Jud
    November 25, 2008

    Another lawyer here – gotta agree with Rev. BigDumbChimp on this one. “Egomaniacal” is perhaps cutting Gerry a bit of a break.

    OTOH, good athletes seem to have huge egos as well – I’m sure being so full of himself helps Gerry in the courtroom, just as it helps athletes push themselves on the court or in the field. Beneath the huge ego, there’s a person who’s done some fine lawyering. (I used to know several lawyers in Oklahoma who’d either attended parts of the Silkwood trial or actually participated in it, and they quite admired his courtroom style.)

  44. #44 Kaleberg
    November 25, 2008

    Watch what you wish for. You may need to hire a lawyer to get your insurer to pay your doctor.

  45. #45 Alton
    November 25, 2008

    “We can live without medical care…”

    Uh, then why would Democratic allies argue that is it a “right”? If we can live without it, must we have Universal healthcare?

  46. #46 JF
    November 25, 2008

    Soooo many lawyers have made big sacrifices, bled and lost their lives to protect our freedoms, our liberty and to keep this country the just and fair place we all know it to be. OMFG.

  47. #47 Uncle Dave
    November 25, 2008

    I believe this is why lawyer jokes were created.

    The National Institute of Health (NIH) announced last week that they were going to start using lawyers instead of rats in their experiments. Naturally, the American Bar Association was outraged and filed suit. Yet, the NIH presented some very good reasons for the switch.

    1. The lab assistants were becoming very attached to their little rats. This emotional involvement was interfering with the research being conducted. No such attachment could form for a lawyer.

    2. Lawyers breed faster and are in much greater supply.

    3. Lawyers are much cheaper to care for and the humanitarian societies won’t jump all over you no matter what you’re studying.

    4. There are some things even a rat won’t do.

  48. #48 Paul Murray
    November 25, 2008

    I, on the other hand, have opined more than once that the health of the country would be more adversely affected if garbage collectors disappeared than if doctors did.

    That’s beyond dispute: the single biggest thing affecting our general health is public sanitation, and I doubt any medical prefessional would disagree. As for lawyers: don’t they manage to do without them in France? Aren’t they an artifact of the adversarial system?

  49. #49 Chris Sanford
    November 26, 2008

    The 2nd law of thermodynamics (aka entropy) says in essence everything is moving from a state of order to a state of disorder. In other words things are breaking down. This law of science is seen in everything from the human body to the automobile in which you drive. Want to deny entropy, never change the oil, fluids, check the air pressure in your tires, fill your car with gas etc, and entropy is going to take place. Now keep in mind this is a law of science. There are very few laws of science because a law of science has to be absolutely the case and be tried many many times before it can be declared a law.
    So think about this for a second if everything is moving from a state of order to disorder as this law of science shows, then that would mean that there was one time when everything was in pristine condition. This would mean that everything at one time was at its best and is now wearing down and eventually will one day wear out. Yet this is exactly the opposite of what evolutionist teach!!! They teach the primitive earth was a flat, ugly, mess. Keep in mind the 2nd law of thermodynamics is just that a law. Why do I emphasize this? Listen to what one evolutionary website proclaims and in doing so denies a law of science.
    “The infant earth that is pictured by scientist today basks in a sun that shines with 70% of its present power (now they say the power of the sun is getting stronger but a law of science denies this!!). A world with no free oxygen in the atmosphere (how can there be no oxygen when they say the ocean existed H2O oxygen is present in water!!!) and no sounds other than wind, the hissing lava against water (H2O!!), and meteorites hitting the earth. (By the way all of this is speculative, there is no evidence that supports this story of the early earth). No plants, no animals, no bacteria, or viruses existed on the earth. From that point on, scientific opinion vastly diversifies. (So most if not all scientist agree up to this point, thus denying the law of entropy!!!). It continues, ” in a steamy world after accretion, earth may have been ( again speculating) a ball of fiery magma. Volcanoes, geysers, and hydrothermal vents would have leached out vital compounds where reactions could ensue (and they call the Bible fantasy??!!)”.
    Anyway you get the point that they say oh the earth was a mess and we are getting better. The 2nd law of thermodynamics a law of science denies this. It says everything was great and is getting worse. Yet what does the Bible say ” and God saw everything that He had made and behold it was very good” Genesis 1:31. The Bible says that in the beginning everything was very good and after the fall of man is getting worse. Not coincidence that this agrees amazingly with a law of science.

  50. #50 DrFrank
    November 26, 2008

    Surely, pretty much by definition, a good proportion of the time trial lawyers are fighting directly *against* justice?

  51. #51 Andrew Dodds
    November 26, 2008

    Chris -

    How do cars ever get built in the first place?

    How does a highly organised hurricane form out of a few storm clouds?

    Answer these first and we may start the long and, I suspect futile process of attempting to get you to understand evolution.

  52. #52 SteveM
    November 26, 2008

    The fallacy is that all justice flows solely from the actions of just trial lawyers. It is only the combination of prosecution, defense and judges that allow for even the approximation of something resembling justice to be had.

    Am I mistaken or aren’t all three (prosecution, defense, judge) trial lawyers? So where is the fallacy?

    OT: Ban Chris, he’s been spamming Pharyngula (and likely many other sites) with exactly that same godbotting drivel.

  53. #53 rogue medic
    November 26, 2008

    If lawyers are so interested in the welfare of society, why do we have so many confidentiality restrictions on the information about the harmful people/products/procedures that the lawyers are supposed to be protecting us from with litigation?

    If they were to disseminate information about dangers, there might be a good argument that they protect us. They can get a larger settlement for their client by agreeing to confidentiality. So, are they protecting the settlement, or society?

    They cannot be said to be protecting the client, since the client is already injured. And that is just in the cases of legitimate suits.

    I am not a lawyer, so I may be misunderstanding this, but am I wrong?

  54. #54 AndyD
    November 27, 2008

    Okay, since others have mentioned the stopjenny link, can I point out here that your link is wrong. It should point directly to “www.stopjenny.com”, not “www.site.stopjenny.com”

    Of all the blogs that link to it, I think it’s important you have the correct link.

  55. #55 Nes
    November 28, 2008

    Ok, dippy here is off topic, but I have to respond.

    A world with no free oxygen in the atmosphere (how can there be no oxygen when they say the ocean existed H2O oxygen is present in water!!!) [emphasis added]

    You missed the operative word, highlighted above. Oxygen in H2O isn’t free, it’s bound with hydrogen.

    [blah blah blah] 2nd law of thermodynamics [blah blah blah]

    Go read about the 2nd law before you continue with your ignorant ranting.

    “The infant earth that is pictured by scientist today basks in a sun that shines with 70% of its present power (now they say the power of the sun is getting stronger but a law of science denies this!!)

    You know, I’m not an astronomer and even I can think of some ideas why this might be… For example, maybe back then the sun hadn’t collected all of the material floating around it yet, so it wasn’t large enough to produce as much energy as it does now, or maybe that material blocked some of the sunlight from reaching Earth (and thus lowering the apparent energy from the sun), and so on. Maybe it just hadn’t gotten “fired up” yet, like how a bonfire starts out as a small fire. (OMG!! Bonfires contradict teh 2nd laws!!11!) This really isn’t hard.

  56. #56 Nes
    November 28, 2008
  57. #57 trrll
    December 1, 2008

    Now keep in mind this is a law of science. There are very few laws of science because a law of science has to be absolutely the case and be tried many many times before it can be declared a law.

    While the competition is severe, I nominate this as the single stupidest misconception of science held by nonscientists.

    Of course, as any scientist can tell you, a “Law” is not some special category of scientific knowledge. A scientific principle is not “declared” a law (by whom?) after being tried some large number (how many?) of times.

    In actual usage by scientists, the meaning of “law” is more along the lines of “rule of thumb” — i.e. a simple generalization that may or may not be exactly correct, but that is close enough to be useful in a wide range of situations. For example, we still refer to Newton’s “Laws” of motion, even though we have known ever since Einstein that they are wrong. But in practice, they are close enough for most common uses that involve calculations of velocity, energy, and momentum at velocities small enough that the relativistic corrections are small enough to be neglected.

  58. #58 Jurjen S.
    December 14, 2008

    Despite numbering quite a few lawyers among my friends and acquaintances, and having a fair amount of respect for their professional capabilities, I find myself highly ambivalent concerning the existence of the legal profession. See, the thing is, I’m a political science major, which means I have an annoying tendency not to think about the details of law, but about its very operating principles.

    I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the maxim that “ignorance is no defense before the law.” One corollary of this is that if that is to hold true, the law must needs be comprehensible to laymen, and the fact that we even need to have a specialized profession to understand, interpret and argue the law for the rest of us is a strong indication that the law has become so horrendously complex that it is simply unrealistic and unreasonable to demand that laymen understand what the law actually is.

    So it’s not that I have anything against lawyers per se, but the fact that we need them is a sign that something is wrong.

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