The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Community News Network

March 29, 2013

How did lawyers get such a bad reputation?

One of the world's largest law firms, DLA Piper, is being sued for overbilling, in a case the New York Times notes will not help the public's low opinion of lawyers. Emails disclosed in conjunction with the suit show one lawyer describing another's approach as "churn that bill, baby!" When did lawyers get such a bad reputation?

The Middle Ages. In the days of the Greek and Roman empires, lawyers generally came from noble, wealthy backgrounds, worked for the public good, and were respected for it. It was often considered dishonorable to collect legal fees, and a lawyer's skill was in his rhetoric rather than in his specialized knowledge of elaborate legal codes. Even when Emperor Claudius eventually permitted legal fees in Rome, he allowed only fees that were less than 10,000 sesterces — several years' pay for a legionary, or only about a week's earnings for some senators. After the Dark Ages, lawyers were required once again by the ever expanding labyrinthine laws of the Catholic Church, the most complex organization of the Medieval era. The church's seemingly endless codes required specialized interpreters, but the lawyers were criticized for selling their God-given talents to the highest bidder. For this greed and "venality," they were attacked viciously in morality tales and satirical poems. One medieval poet wrote, "They are no psalmists, but the harpists of Satan." Others compared them to Judas, explaining that "he who sells the truth for money sells Christ, who is Truth." Their venality was associated particularly with the their tongues, and in the moral spook stories called the exempla, their tongues were in turn blackened, torn from them, or, in one case, scorched by fiery horses and cattle stuffed into their mouths.

Though lawyers weren't compared to Judas every time they took a fee, the perception that lawyers were greedy and opportunist continued through the Renaissance and into the early modern era. An early lawyer joke can be found in Shakespeare's King Lear, when Lear tells the Fool that his speech is "nothing, fool." "Then 'tis like the breath of the unfeed lawyer," the Fool replies, delivering the equivalent of the aphorism "A lawyer's opinion which costs nothing is worth nothing." Many dramas even compared lawyers to the devil himself, or depicted the devil as a lawyer. By 1832, the lawyer-devil archetype was so tiresome that the editor of one book of jokes complained that it was a "hackneyed character."

Text Only
Community News Network
  • To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

    Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

    April 16, 2014

  • Doctors to rate cost effectiveness of expensive cancer drugs

    The world's largest organization of cancer doctors plans to rate the cost effectiveness of expensive oncology drugs, and will urge physicians to use the ratings to discuss the costs with their patients.

    April 16, 2014

  • Low blood-sugar levels make for grousing spouses

    Husbands and wives reported being most unhappy with their spouses when their blood-sugar levels were lowest, usually at night, according to research released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Missing a meal, dieting or just being hungry may be the reason, researchers said.

    April 16, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • portraitoflotte.jpg VIDEO: From infant to teen in four minutes

    Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester’s time lapse video of his daughter, Lotte — created by filming her every week from her birth until she turned 14 — has become a viral sensation.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 15, 2014

  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 15, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • bomb1 VIDEO: A year after marathon bombing, Boston remains strong

    The City of Boston came together Tuesday to honor those who were injured and lost their lives at the Boston Marathon on the one-year anniversary of the bombing. While the day was sure to be emotional, those affected by last year's race are showing they won't let the tragedy keep them down.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Google acquires drone maker Titan Aerospace to spread Internet

    Google is adding drones to its fleets of robots and driverless cars.
    The Internet search company said it acquired Titan Aerospace, the maker of high-altitude, solar-powered satellites that provides customer access to data services around the world. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

    April 14, 2014