E-letter: It’s a matter of law


I imagine most of us are justified in being irked at The Law. Shakespeare was, when he famously had his character Dick the Butcher say, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Farther back in history, Luke 11:52 says, “Woe unto you, lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in you hindered.”

Heavy stuff. Yet, I would consider myself to be both fascinated by and respectful of the law. In fact, to me the Law (capital L) is the framework of society, as well as society’s protection. Further, we in Western society are so lucky as to live under what appears to be the finest set of governing principles ever set down.

Kerry Knudsen
Kerry Knudsen

On the other hand, those finely crafted principles were written on a few dozen pages. Between then and now, those pages have multiplied by millions. In every legislative session, volumes of law are added. In every session of court, fine points are either added or affirmed. Worse, rather than clarify or enforce the original Law (capital L), it seems every passing day sees clarity defeated and justice denied by the courts.


I have a hypothesis. The reason people hate lawyers almost as much as they do journalists is because the purpose of lawyers is to destroy Law (capital L), just as journalists are setting out to destroy freedom of speech for anybody not a member of the club.

Before I continue, let me advance the Archie Bunker defence: some of my best friends are lawyers. And journalists.

But let’s look at the facts. Lawyers earn money arguing the law.

To win a case, a lawyer may have to look at the law as if it’s paint on an old, attic-stored chair. In general, the paint is tight, if a bit dusty and faded. However, if you look closely, you might find a small edge curled up along one of the surfaces. If you are curious, you can wedge a fingernail under it and lift up to see what is underneath.

Of course, this would not damage the chair, and it might give insight as to what species was used, how many coats were applied and so on. However, you can also see that if enough people pull enough chips over a long-enough period of time, the chair will become weakened. Still longer, and it will be unrecognizable and dysfunctional.

Not all lawyers are rich. Far from it. In fact, you can see young lawyers, irked that they cannot get a position in an established law firm, hanging out their shingle as independents and starving.

These people, in particular, need to look at that chair very carefully. Not only do they need a deteriorating paint job, but they need a place where the finish is sound but might give way to incessant picking. To the chair, it does not matter whether the picking is warranted or not. It loses another bit of its past in the endless process of erosion.

It can fairly be said, then, that the profession of the law (small l) is dedicated to the erosion of society’s core principles. Granted, there are lawyers that defend the core Law, but they have to lose with some frequency in order to allow the — can I say termites? — to earn their wages. After all, if the Law was clear, immovable and absolute, there would be no need of lawyers.

Assuming all that is true, then it’s understandable that on-lookers to the law, and especially people that have been on the raw end of a picking session, might see lawyers as a problem, and not a solution. In fact, we have our own corporate law firm to make sure we are defended against other people’s and the government’s lawyers. Range-riders without the guns.

What makes this fascinating to me is the history. I am not going to bother with whether you are or not of one religion or another. However, you have to accept that the Bible is record. At minimum, it is a record of what people wrote at the time. Therefore, some 2,000 years ago somebody wrote down that somebody else saw lawyers as holding the keys of knowledge, without having knowledge, itself. And, further, that lawyers use the keys, not to access knowledge, but to keep anybody else from getting them. Tacky.


I can’t stop without mentioning last week’s abomination in Paris. One thing I noticed was the fact that the rampage started at the office of an independent newspaper and ended at a printing plant. If you were to write that as a screenplay, the producers would say it is heavy-handed symbolism and nobody would ever buy it.

But it is not a screenplay. My heart goes out to the dead and the living at Charlie Hebdo. One of the surviving cartoonists lashed out at the pity: “We have a lot of new friends, like the pope, Queen Elizabeth and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. It really makes me laugh,” Bernard Holtrop, told the Dutch centre-left daily Volkskrant. “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends. They’ve never seen Charlie Hebdo.”

From our desk, we don’t pity or admire. We do, however, note the symbolism. Stupid people hate independence of thought. Stupid people try to stifle the views of those with whom they disagree instead of debate them in the light of day. And stupid people, frustrated at their own impotence, do things beyond the imagination when they get frustrated enough. It is heartbreak such as that last week at Charlie Hebdo, however, that underscores and emphasizes the wisdom of the founders of democracy when they insisted on education as a necessary component of self-governance and independence of expression as a necessary component of education. Even in the wood industry press.