Earlier in my life I was generally contemptuous of lawyers, and I still enjoy a good lawyer joke. But while many lawyers really are worthy of contempt, good lawyers, who represent clients well and worthily, often are essential to finding a semblance of justice in our system. Count on my friend Randy Barnett to state the case eloquently in a piece he wrote just after the Duke lacrosse rape case.
Randy, who argued the Gonzales v. Raich medical marijuana case before the Supreme Court, was on a panel years ago on a show about people who had been wrongly convicted. As a former prosecutor, he was supposed to give the prosecution side, but he was as appalled at wrongful convictions as any of the other panelists:
"The point I decided to make was simple: For better or worse, we have an adversary legal system that relies for its proper operation on having competent lawyers on both sides. In every case I knew about where an innocent person had been convicted, there had been an incompetent defense lawyer at the pretrial and trial stages.
"The reaction of the others on the stage was stunning. The former defendants all began nodding their heads while their lawyers, who represented them on appeal but not at trial, sat sullenly beside them. Afterwards, some parents even came up to shake my hand."
His point was that the Duke lacrosse accusees (or their parents) had the means to have competent lawyers -- though that alone might not have done it. Plenty of people accused, wrongly or otherwise, don't have excellent lawyers.