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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review March 29, 2006 / 29 Adar, 5766

Lincoln and the Compensation Culture

By Paul Johnson


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Cherie Booth Blair, wife of Britain's prime minister Tony Blair, has, through hard work and brains, become a highly paid lawyer. However, she's been getting herself — and, by association, her husband — into trouble. Mrs. Blair has been defending the role of lawyers in an area of litigation dubbed the "compensation culture." This is a form of aggressive litigation for damages that's been imported into Britain from the U.S. Mrs. Blair is currently pushing the case of a Muslim girl who is suing for compensation for lost schooling when she was not permitted to attend classes wearing the head-to-toe jilbab. Critics of this type of lawsuit say the only beneficiaries are a few lucky (and often undeserving) individuals and, of course, the lawyers, of whom Mrs. Blair is one. The losers are the rest of us.


The compensation-culture debate is the latest phase of a longstanding antilawyer bias, evidence of which can be found in Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part Two. A rebel, in outlining his program, says: "The first thing we do let's kill all the lawyers."


The old English legal term for one who goes to the law repeatedly without sufficient cause is "vexatious litigant." In the U.S. compensation claims now form a species of vexatious litigation that is damaging to society. But this is merely part of a wider argument, that the U.S. has too many lawyers and too much law.

TOO MANY LAWYERS?
It is often said — rightly or wrongly — that the U.S. has more lawyers than the rest of the world put together. And I can recall pundits arguing 30 to 40 years ago that one reason Japan was going to overtake the U.S. was that it had only one-tenth the number of lawyers, per capita, that the U.S. had. One reason America has so many lawyers is that it is, and always has been, easier to become one in the U.S. than anywhere else. This is part of the greater freedom of choice and action that is the source of American dynamism.


There are outstanding cases of Americans who hailed from the hinterlands and had little social standing, such as Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson, who used the law as their first step on the road to the White House. Lincoln's career is especially instructive. Coming from his impoverished background, he could never have become a lawyer in the England, Germany or France of his day. And Lincoln was a good lawyer — not only professionally but also morally. If one cites him as evidence that the proliferation of lawyers in America is not necessarily an evil, one must also cite the way in which he chose to practice law. A letter (dated Feb. 21, 1856) that he wrote from his law office in Springfield, Ill. to a George P. Floyd of Quincy, Ill.:


"Dear Sir,

I have just received yours of 16th, with check on Flagg & Savage for twenty-five dollars. You must think I am a high-priced man. You are too liberal with your money.

Fifteen dollars is enough for the job. I send you a receipt for fifteen dollars, and return to you a ten-dollar bill.

Yours truly,
A. Lincoln"


This is a beautiful letter — brief, simple and practical. Lincoln doesn't argue the point, just returns ten dollars. A copy of this letter ought to hang over the desk of each partner in every law firm in the U.S.


It was not that Lincoln underpriced himself. Quite the reverse. At one point he took on a troublesome and time-consuming case for the Illinois Central Railroad Co. He eventually won the case, saving the railroad (by his calculations) $500,000. Lincoln thought his services worth $5,000, but when the company tried to fob him off with $250, he took them to court and won.


Lincoln's view of the law has direct relevance to today's compensation-culture debate. There survives from the 1850s a paper he wrote to a young man contemplating the law as a profession. The paper is entitled "Notes on the Practice of Law" and ought to be required reading for all law students today. In it Lincoln admonishes: "Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this." A lawyer, he also says, should always "discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, in expenses and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough."

HONEST ABE'S ADVICE
I often wonder what Lincoln would make of the state of the law today. I doubt that he'd approve of Mrs. Blair's representation. Lincoln believed the great virtue of the law was that it provided the best means — often the only means — of obtaining justice without violence.


I think he'd have felt that compensation-culture cases are too often the pursuit of easy money, not justice. He thought — and said in his advice to the young man — that accusations against lawyers as being dishonest were exaggerated. He continued: "Resolve to be honest at all events; and if, in your own judgment, you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer."


A good example of Honest Abe's unrivaled ability to speak truth on a complex issue, in the smallest number of words.

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Previously:

03/22/06: Bottle-beauties and the globalised blond beast
03/15/06: Europe's utopian hangover
03/08/06: Kindly write on only one side of the paper
02/28/06: Creators versus critics
02/21/06: The Rhino Principle

© 2006, Paul Johnson

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