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February 15, 2014

Missing the Good Old Days
Recently retired, I attended a CLE luncheon and seminar presented by the Clearwater Bar Association on “Ethics and Professionalism” with Bar President Eugene Pettis presiding. The correct title should have been “The Continuing Decline and Eclipse of the Legal Profession.”

President Pettis grimly described the current status of lawyering, touching on the lessening demand for lawyers due to free online legal advice, LegalZoom, and online legal documents, clerk’s office self-help clinics, and the shrinking cash reserves of the public and business to retain lawyers.

The unemployment of law school graduates, the big drop of law school enrollment, and the prevalent dissatisfaction of new lawyers with their jobs was discussed, adding to the gloom.

His programs to facilitate legal services to the non-rich and the non-poor are admirable, but the major causes of the problems of the legal profession are economic and national in scope and thus beyond the ability of The Florida Bar to remedy. Most devastating, he predicted that Florida would soon follow other states authorizing nonlawyers to provide legal services and representation on a level “above a paralegal but below that of an attorney.”

Whether this would entail signing pleadings and limited court appearances was not discussed, and is now, let’s face it, irrelevant, because these “para-lawyers” will further dilute the need for lawyers.

Before I retired last fall, several colleagues said they envied me because they were either too young to retire, too old to find a new career, or, if older, could not afford to retire. Older or younger, they all wanted out of the law profession as it exists with the client hassles, limited income, and overhead that only goes up. As for me, I miss the good old days which sadly seem to be gone forever.

David P. Carter

Timely Justice Act
Merely to assert that something is “fair” does not make it so. In fact, a baseless or misleading assertion can actually make something less fair by creating a false sense of confidence in an illusion of fairness.

It seems that this is exactly what has been accomplished by the joint legislative-judicial committee on capital representation, according to “highlights” of the committee’s recommendations as detailed in the January 15 News.

The committee was created ostensibly to tweak the so-called “Timely Justice Act,” legislation that would indisputably expedite the execution process. The committee’s recommendation to extend the period of time for a judge to execute someone from 60 to 90 days is hardly a meaningful change.  Likewise, it makes no practical difference whether the Supreme Court clerk informs the governor that a defendant is death “warrant eligible” or the attorney general informs the clerk when she “believes the defendant has completed” the first round of post-conviction proceedings.

An increase in the number and speed of executions under the so-called “Timely Justice Act” will be neither timely nor just, and the latest round of window dressing does nothing to make the process more fair despite its claims.

James Lohman
Austin, Texas

The Scientific Method?
As a trial lawyer of 30-plus years, I was extremely disturbed by Stephen Schoeman’s letter in the February 1 News urging a re-evaluation of the “adversarial paradigm” in favor of the “scientific method.”

I would ask him to read The Common Law by Oliver Wendell Holmes, in which the illusory nature of “truth” is explored, as well as the failings of human beings to perceive “truth” infallibly. Holmes asserts that the purpose of the legal system is to settle disputes in a manner satisfactory to the end of social peace, as “truth” is subject to “the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious” and is inherently subjective.

Holmes contrasts this with the French system in which “truth” is sought to be “established.” “Truth,” like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.

The scientific method is used to study the nature of our world, its “truth.” That truth has changed dramatically from a flat, geocentric system, to the vast universe we now perceive. Good science consists of “truth” being constantly challenged, and is best served when debate is robust. But wait, that sounds a lot like the “adversarial system;” it is, in fact, to the affairs of society what the “scientific method” strives to be for the physical scientist. In the affairs of humans, “truth” is not a thing capable of being found; it is illusive and can only be approximated when dealing with diverse peoples.

As a defense attorney, I have learned to be skeptical of any fact put forward until I have thoroughly investigated its origins and the assumptions that underlie its acceptance. Science provides excellent answers to some questions and is useful in the process.

The essence of the adversarial system is like the scientific method. My fear, however, is of a belief system that holds “truth” as a knowable quantum that can be found.

Given that reasonable beings still tend to disagree, we should continue to utilize juries to decide for us our common resolutions or face the danger of institutionalizing the possession of “truth” by those with power.

Barbara Blount-Powell

Too Many Lawyers
“Relief” is the word I choose to describe my feelings upon reading the February 1 front-page article headlined “Florida lawyers weigh in on the state of the profession.”

It is not relief as in I believe Florida lawyers’ surveyed issues are trivial, but relief as in now I know that a majority of Florida lawyers feel the same as I do.

What I find to be most troubling, and apparently 49 percent of the respondents agree with me, is the oversaturation of lawyers in Florida. Combine that with the slow-moving economy, and what results is a never-ending struggle for existing lawyers to acquire business and for new lawyers to find jobs.

The extremely high level of law school enrollment in the last five years, which now seems to be leveling off, was clearly a result of the severe recession as jobs were few and far between in Florida.

Florida has 11 law schools. Each law school, on average, graduates 250 people per year. That is 2,750-plus people taking the Florida bar exam each year, minus those who decide to forgo the legal profession. I believe that if the survey were regiven, with the question posed if lawyers believe that Florida needs another 2,750 new lawyers added to The Florida Bar rolls each year, the results would be a nearly unanimous “no.”

More stringent admission requirements, and, more importantly, smaller class sizes would contribute to fewer lawyers saturating the market, but those new lawyers being of higher quality. It’s a classic “less is more” theory.

It is not my opinion that people should not pursue their chosen profession, but rather it appears that law schools in recent years have become so engulfed in a “more students, more professors, more tuition” mentality, that the idea of the legal profession being a prestigious one, and not just a bad economy fallback career, seems to have been lost in the schools’ message.

Jason E. Handin
Boca Raton

Power Elites?
The February 1 article about the National Association of Women Judges campaign to brainwash the great unwashed into deifying sitting judges was proof positive that our judicial power elite really want a society ruled by “philospher kings” ala Plato’s “Republic.”

Oddly enough, the kings turn out to be them and their offspring.
The voters kept the crazies from screwing up the court last election. The lady judges think that attacks on state judiciaries are a bad thing. I guess they never lived in Texas where tort law is a joke and appellate judges keep the farce going. Read the small print on all those asbestos commercials.

Just look at the chaos created by lifetime appointments to the federal courts. The slavers, smugglers, rebels, and renegades that set things up thought judges would be dead by 60, not hang on into their 90s.

Just because you wear a black robe and act like you never saw a dirty movie doesn’t prevent you from being a tyrant. Beware when people in power want to educate you. Sooner or later you will wake up making their beds and carrying their golf clubs.

Charles B. Tiffany

[Revised: 06-15-2015]