This is why people think lawyers are bottom feeders

Most people who navigate through our legal system, and who must educate themselves about our laws, opt to use a lawyer in the hope that the lawyer, through his skill and knowledge, will give them both a friend in Court and an advantage over their adversary. In other words, in our judicial system, lawyers are meant to assist. They are not a necessity, nor is there any law requiring people to rely on lawyers. There are, of course, exceptions to this. Corporations, which are not people (an obvious point but one that matters at law), cannot appear in any court but small claims without a lawyer acting on their behalf. Also, if adults are incapacitated, courts will appoint lawyers to protect them.

Children occupy an interesting little legal enclave. If a child's legal interests appear to be contrary to his parents' interests or desires, the Court may appoint a lawyer to ensure that the child's needs are not made subordinate to the parents' demands. Normally, however, children cannot appear in a case on their own behalf. Instead, they can appear only through their parents. That is, the suit will be filed by John Doe, as parent and guardian of John Doe, Jr.

In Ohio, parents of a minor autistic child filed a case on his behalf against the school district. They elected to appear in propriate persona — that is, without a lawyer. They were successful. Their success apparently has the Cleveland Bar Association very worried. How else to explain the fact that the Bar is threatening to fine the parents for their successful court appearance:

The Cleveland Bar Association is threatening to fine the parents of an autistic boy $10,000 for not hiring a lawyer when they brought, and largely won, a court case on their son's behalf four years ago.

After a long court battle, Brian and Susan Woods settled their case with the Akron school district in 2002 when the district agreed to send Daniel, now 11, to a private school.

But in February, the Cleveland Bar Association took issue with the Woodses' handling parts of that case themselves and not through a lawyer.

The bar charged them with unauthorized practice of law and threatened a $10,000 fine, saying that although the Woodses were allowed to represent themselves, they could not act as lawyers for their son. The charge is normally filed against nonlawyers who provide legal services for pay, but is rare against parents.

Representatives of several advocacy groups – plus the National School Boards Association, the American Bar Association and the Ohio bar's Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law – could not recall any cases of parents being charged with this misdemeanor offense.

Although the Ohio Supreme Court hasn't yet decided the matter, it already shows some signs of good sense:

Last week, the Ohio Supreme Court, which will ultimately decide the case, ordered the bar to present evidence on why the case should not be dismissed, saying it appeared that "Woods has not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law."

What's really lovely is the Bar's justification for bringing this claim against parents who successfully defended their child's legal rights:

Michael Harvey, the Rocky River lawyer handling the charges for the bar association, said the goal is to protect the rights of children. Harvey said special education laws are so complex that children need experts, not untrained parents, looking out for their rights.

Call me a cynic, but I doubt the Bar's stated good intentions. This whole thing has the smell of a monopoly that is trying to use gross bullying tactics to maintain its control over the market. No wonder some people think lawyers are bottom feeders. And no wonder that my natural inclination from the time I left law school has always been corporate defense work.

Hat tip: From the Word Go

10 Responses

  1. Given the the Rule of Lawyers and the Rule of Judges going on, you’re probably not a cynic. Anyone who believes in the Rule of Law, as it was meant to be, as LAW not personal fiat, is really an optimist at heart. But even optimists can feel despair.

    Two liberals, not fake liberals but liberals, are not quite against lawyers. Primarily because I suppose they see lawyers as a necessary boon and aid to the downtrodden people. John Ross and Glenn Reynolds of instapundit for example. Both know law and have worked with it, John Ross as a lobbyist for concealed carry permits and Glenn as a law professor. These are the people, who if the lawyers and judges ALL consisted of like minded people as the two, who the American people have no enmity towards.

    But even John Ross and Glenn, cannot deny the absolute weird and uncommon things that go on with lawyers and perhaps judges. Ross highlights how divorce lawyers are always interested in inflicting the greatest pain for the greatest gain, since that is how they get paid. If they lose, they may not get paid.

  2. I think I can appreciate where the Bar is coming from. The idea being that if the child needs legal assistance, then he or she should receive it from a practicing attorney admitted to the bar makes sense on its face. I don’t think that the parents in the instant case did anything wrong by representing the child, though, as that’s what parents do – they stand in place of the child, from signing releases for shots to signing permission slips to go on field trips. However, I can see where people might want a line to be drawn, as it’s potentially quite dangerous for random adults to pick their buddy Jimbo to play the lawyer on their behalf, which might be closer to what the Ohio Bar is trying to prevent. One could speculate that the Bar took this action to set a starting point for future challenges on similar but slightly different cases. However, I’m merely speculating.

  3. Sounds more like a “job security” issue. Used to be that someone interested in becoming a lawyer but could not afford law school could “read for the bar” and once passing the bar exam be admitted as a member. No more. That was a threat to the stranglehold of law schools, run by lawyers.

    Why is the law so complicated? Could it be that somewhere around 80% of legislators are lawyers? They write the laws complicated and confusing so that you will need a lawyer to work your way through the courts. Job Security.

    Or maybe this is just an instance of sour grapes since one or more of their members was out lawyered by a couple of rookies.

  4. “Children need experts (rather than mere parents)” has been the mantra used to justify a multitude of sins. Homeschoolers hear the same thing from some professional teachers, and Rob Reiner’s “early childhood education” (nee “First Five”) attempt to mandate universal preschool in California operates on the same, self-serving assumption so dear to minions of the nanny state.

  5. While I don’t agree with the actions of the Cleveland Bar Association, I also think that we don’t need to “go after our own”…………..

  6. Very Very nice information here… Thanks

  7. … i still think lawyers are a necessity

    • That’s true. If there were no lawyers, some other group would be the lowest form of life (maybe your group).

  8. As of yesterday I understand the definition of bottom feeders. In my state it looks like the judges and lawyers are best of friends. What is wrong in this picture? I think maybe you can figure that out. Dont forget the DA’s staff. I here hell hath no fury. Yesterdy the lawyer rolled his eyes at my husbamd when I was talking. The lawyer kept his eyes on the ceiling most of the time he talked to us. We weren’t standing on the ceiling.

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