by Richard Dooling
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently predicted that we will have 28 percent more lawyers by the year 2005. That means 839,000 working lawyers, compared with the 656,000 practicing law in 1994.
From another perspective: Job growth in the legal profession will be twice the average projected for all occupations. Pretty promising stats for the most hated profession in America.
We despise lawyers, but we seem to like laws, especially when they provide us with federally mandated extra maternity days in the hospital, federally guaranteed unpaid leaves from our jobs and, perhaps in the near future, federally guaranteed rights to coffee brewed at federally regulated temperatures.
Passing more comprehensive and more intrusive laws every year and then blaming the growing number of lawyers for the ensuing litigation is a little like starting a war and then blaming the casualties on the growing number of morticians.
In the first 70 years of this century, 25 laws regulating employment were adopted. Between 1970 and 1993, Congress passed 72 more, including such Gordian knots of legal obfuscation as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Small wonder that one growth area is employment law, with the hottest segment being sexual harassment litigation.
We've also passed new and better laws governing the environment and health care. No surprise that a bumper crop of environmental litigators and joint-degree lawyer-hospital administrators are projected to arrive on schedule. The angels of our better natures were no doubt in charge when we passed most of these important, popular laws. But even an angel can use a smart lawyer.
Laws spawn litigation, and litigation brings its own costs, including huge bills from teams of lawyers who are simply doing their jobs. Without laws to fight over, they are out of work. Even the most carefully drafted Family Leave Act, for example, will throng the docket with lawyers paid by the hour to argue over the statutory definitions of "family" and "leave."
Then, of course, committees of lawyers must write and read the inevitable accompanying voluminous regulations detailing record-keeping, administrative procedures, filing requirements and other stuporifics so unspeakably dense, tedious and prolix that no lawyers in their right minds would invest the time and effort required to read and understand them, unless they were getting paid $200 an hour for their trouble -- present company included.
Is all of this worth the mandatory leave heretofore denied by a small percentage of hard-hearted employers?
"Yes! Definitely," scream the lawyers.
Now go ask your barber if you need a haircut.
Maybe we legislate to express our compassion for our fellow citizens and then blame lawyers when our statutory works of art go into the meat grinder of litigation.
We have not yet absorbed the lesson learned by Voltaire, who said: "I was never ruined but twice: Once when I lost a lawsuit, and once when I won one."
Richard Dooling is a Nebraska lawyer and novelist. This article first appeared in the New York Times.