Sunday, July 16, 2006

Traffic Index #4: Bastille Day Weekend

In 1989 I worked in Paris at a law firm called Vovan & Associes. It was the summer following my first year of law school. It was also the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. July 14 is the date that the celebration took place. I had a wonderful apartment and filled it with friends for the celebration.

The entire summer was magic. My experience working in France formed my entire career. In the United States, lawyers work in firms that are grinding pyramid schemes. In France and throughout Europe young lawyers in civil practice are grossly underpaid, but seem to get their hands on real work immediately and develop as professionals through a mentoring system.

In the United States we are going through very dark times politically. Although we are experiencing a technological and cultural renaissance, we are experiencing an almost total loss of respect for democracy, freedom and human rights. Cowards, weaklings and bullies have taken over our government and have damaged American democratic institutions. Respect for the rule of law in our country is at an all-time low. Respect for diplomacy is even lower. During the Italian Renaissance, Italy was run by weaklings, fools, madmen and religious fanatics who wreaked tremendous destruction. It is hard not to see the parallels.

In the United States, lawyers are subject to criminal penalties (sanctions) for making "unreasonable" arguments. The government is in charge of what is "reasonable". The newspapers for lawyers are full of tales of lawyers being subjected to these criminal penalties without due process of law, just for speaking on behalf of their clients. These penalties are enshrined in Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and many state copycat laws.

It is my hope that we will remember these days as we remember the darkest days of the McCarthy era. Where lawyers were subjected to witch hunts for speaking truth to power, for advancing novel theories, and for advocating zealously as a true adversary system requires.

The French have erected an opera house where the Bastille prison once stood. It's time that lawyers started thinking about shrugging off some of these crazy laws that are used to undermine our basic freedoms and the common law rights


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