The orginial quotation, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” is probably one of the most famous quips penned by William Shakespeare, and is oft tossed with a sardonic chuckle at and by lawyers alike. The line comes from Henry VI, (part2), Act 4, scene 2, 71–78, and, like many famous quotations, is taken completely out of context. But whenever I hear it slung about, I wonder why it is that so many people think so poorly of lawyers as a lot. The vast majority of people I know that are lawyers are good people that work hard and care about their clients. While lawyers are often portrayed as sharks preying upon an ususpecting public, I think most of us would acknowledge that the people we know involved in the profession love the law, believe in justice and fair treatment for all, and consider themselves problem solvers, not problem creators! Most lawyers would rather avoid the adverseral and unpredicatble courtroom battlefield in favor of a thoughtful and fair resolution for their client outside of a trial.
And therin lies the rub, to quote Shakespeare again. The behavior to reach that goal is often seen as obstructionist, or problem causing, when in fact, what most of us want is what’s best for our clients, and hopefully, the best and most equitable outcome for all. Bearing that in mind, as lawyers we are required to uphold the Constitution and adhere to the rule of law. With all these considerations, it is no wonder that when a lawyer gets involved we’re seen as the ones that complicate things.
Which brings me back to my first quotation about killing all us lawyers off . . . the phrase was spoken by Dick the Butcher, a follower of Jack Cade who was hoping to overthrow the current government and instill himself as an autocrat. A careful reading of the passage reveals that Shakespeare’s true meaning wasn’t that lawyers needed to be disposed of because we are a bad bunch, but rather that good lawyers provide justice and protect the law, and sometimes this is inconvenient for people who don’t necessarily have fairness in mind.