Monday, July 02, 2007

LawRant v1.0: The Trouser Trial (and Bad Lawyers Everywhere)

I figure that, in the interest of having something substantive to say in this blog, I should actually comment on things that I know about from time to time, rather than merely linking to amusing news articles with one-liner intros. Today's installment (a bit late in coming, I know) deals with the Trouser Trial in D.C., in which a former administrative law judge came up with a novel application of the local consumer protection laws in suing his dry cleaner for $54 million over a pair of lost pants. The $54 million was actually an act of restraint, it seems, as the original complaint sought $67 million. As I recall, they were Brooks Brothers pants. While I respect the fine workmanship of Brooks Brothers clothing, one has to question this valuation. But I digress.

I've read speculation that there may be disciplinary action brought against the plaintiff in the case which also calls to mind the Duke Lacrosse case, and its now-disbarred prosecutor. And since we're on the topic, the prosecutor on the Paris Hilton case is facing an ethics probe. It's a bad time to be a high-profile lawyer. So what's the deal?

This insight probably isn't new to many of my law school cohorts, but the fact of the matter is, the good law students aren't becoming city or county prosecutors, whether in North Carolina or in California. They're going to law firms to make a buck, or if they're really good they're going to U.S. Attorney's Offices, or if they're really passionate about public service, they're doing something a little better than local Assistant District Attorney. State judges, state prosecutors...no offense, but these are not the shining stars of the legal world. But they end up in these high-profile situations, and they end up embarrassing the legal profession as a whole. The good lawyers are either working low-profile, high-paying firm jobs, or, you know, getting arbitrarily fired by the Bush administration.

There's the real imbalance in the legal industry. The incentive structure is off, but not in the way that most people think. I hear complaints that public interest work doesn't pay enough to attract talent, but it at least has all of the pride benefits. It's what people do when they're so passionate about the public good that they need to serve it in spite of the financial sacrifice. But these local-level DA and state judge jobs...so much of the law that makes the news, that affects daily life, that defines the way the vast majority of the public will interact with the legal profession, is based on these jobs. And they don't pay, and they don't appeal as strongly to public interest-types who want to feel good about what they do.

So they go to these jokers. I hope the guy who brought the dry cleaning lawsuit is disbarred, because that kind of abuse of process is inexcusable enough for people who aren't public servants who are supposed to have some kind of understanding and respect for the law. But there'll be another one coming up soon behind.

The one bright side of it all? If these jackasses can pass the bar, then I certainly can, right?

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