August 2007


Aug 20, 2007: 17. Lawyers and software



This continues the previous BitsAndPieces, with a relevant quotation on the talents and motives of most lawyers.

Here are some wise words from that worldfamous intrepid explorer and English gent Captain Lemuel Gulliver, whose biography was written by Jonathan Swift.

I quote from the fifth chapter of the fourth book of "Gulliver's Travels". It seems a correct appraisal of the race of men considered:

----- quote

"There was another point which a little perplexed him at present. I had said that some of our crew left their country on account of being ruined by law; that I had already explained the meaning of the word; but he was at loss how it should come to pass that the law which was intended for every man's preservation, should be any man's ruin. Therefore he desired to be farther satisfied by what I meant by law, and the dispensers thereof, according to the present practice in my country; because he taught Nature and Reason were sufficient guides for a reasonable animal, as we pretended to be, in showing us what we ought to do, and what to avoid. (..)

I said there was a society of men among us, bred up from their youth in the art of proving by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black is white, according as they are paid. To this society all the rest are slaves. For example, if my neighbour hath a mind to my cow, he hires a lawyer to prove that he ought to have my cow from me. I must then hire another to defend my right, it being against all rules of law that any man should speak for himself. Now in this case, I who am the true owner lie under two great disadvantages. First, my lawyer, being practised almost from the cradle in defending falsehood, is quite out of his element when he should be an advocate for justice, which as an office unnatural, he always attempts with great awkwardness, if not with ill-will. The second disadvantage is, that a lawyer must proceed with great caution, or else he will be reprimanded by the Judges, and abhorred by his brethren, as one who would lessen the practice of the law. (..)

Now, your Honour is to know that these Judges are persons appointed to decide all controversies of property, as well as for the trials of criminals, and picked out from the most dexterous lawyers who are grown old or lazy, and having been biassed all their lives against truth and equity, lie under such a fatal necessity of favouring fraud, perjury, and oppression, that I have known several of them refuse a large bribe from the side where justice lay, rather than injure the Faculty [the profession] by doing anything unbecoming their nature or their office.

It is a maxim among these lawyers, that whatever hath been done before, may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the Judges never fail to direct accordingly.

In pleading, they studiously avoid entering into the merits of the cause; but are loud, violent and tedious in dwelling upon all circumstances which are not to the purpose. (..)

It is likewise to be observed that this society hath a peculiar cant and jargon of their own, that no mortal can understand, and wherein all their laws are written, which they take special care to multiply; whereby they have wholly confounded the the very essence of truth and falsehood, of right and wrong; so that it will take thirty years to decide whether the field, left me by my ancestors for six generations, belong to me or to a stranger three hundred miles off. (..)

Here my master, interposing, said it was a pity, that creatures endowed with such prodigious abilities of mind as these lawyers, by the description I gave of them, must certainly be, were not rather encouraged to be the instructors of others in wisdom and knowledge. In answer to which, I assured his Honour, that in all points out of their own trade they were usually the most ignorant and stupid generation among us, the most despicable in common conversation, avowed enemies to all knowledge and learning, and equally disposed to pervert the general reason of mankind in every other object of discourse, as in that of their own profession."

---- unquote

Comment: Of course, Jonathan Swift was a misanthrope, a satirist, and he is long and safely dead. I have heard and read more recent other opinions on the law and its practice, by lawyers and/or politicians, which did not seem to me better informed, and that certainly did not have fewer illusions or a better style.

And of course, and like my previous piece, this is only quoted to clarify some of my own attitudes.

As to lawyer-types: I have met quite a few, rarely met an intelligent one, and never what I would call a moral one.

And the civil cases I have battled out in Dutch courts, that I generally won without benefit of lawyers, since I usually dismissed them after a short while as incompetents or liars, but against great loss of my time, taught me that in a court of law all everyday terms (and more, including commas) have almost completely ceased their everyday meanings, and are - jurisprudentially - replaced by identically sounding terms with very obscure and often nonsensical legal "definitions" or uses, normally at many points at variance with my own logical, semantical, moral or philosophical knowledge of the meanings of these terms outside law courts.

Maarten Maartensz


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