Is it just me, or does Congress seem to be overloaded with lawyers? Are there too many lawyers?
Don’t get me wrong. From the get-go, I have used and appreciated the services that many lawyers have provided me over the years. Estate planning and clearing property titles are just a few of the excellent legal services that I have paid for. In addition, I have many close attorney friends whom I greatly admire.
Historically speaking, our first US Congress (1789-1791) was comprised of 91 total members. There were 63 representatives and 26 senators. That Congress was represented by the following occupations:
*5 statesmen/career politicians
Our 212th Congress (2011-2012) has a total of 541 members, broken down as 435 representatives, 100 senators, and 6 non-voting members
Their claimed occupations are as follows:
*209 businessmen and women
*208 public servants
*34 agricultural professionals
*32 medical professionals
*9 social workers
*9 military reserves
*7 law enforcement officers
*4 Peace Corps volunteers
*2 professional football players
*1 documentary filmmaker
If my math is correct, that is 636 occupations for 541 members. It is obvious that some of these people thought they were submitting a resume, and were confused about their occupations.
Although the First Congress had a limited variety of professions, the general makeup of both are relatively similar. As you can see, from the time the First Congress met, law has been a leading profession. In both bodies, about 37 percent of the members are lawyers. It makes sense. The people writing the laws need to have a deep understanding of how the legal system works. This was especially true during the First Congress, as all of their actions were setting precedents for a new nation.
But do attorneys make the best politicians?
It appears to me that no other occupation tries to advance its benefits of occupation more than lawyers. Let me cite a few examples.
Example #1 – Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Limitations. In 2004, then President George “Dubya” Bush hit the reelection campaign trail, lashing out at plaintiff’s lawyers for filing “junk lawsuits” that he said were sending the cost of healthcare out of sight. Earlier, as Governor of Texas, “Dubya” was successful in implementing just such a program in Texas. His program was simple; medical malpractice lawsuits would be limited to $250,000 plus the medical costs. That is about as simple as it gets. All that the senate needed to do was garner the required 60 votes in a Republican-controlled senate. Unfortunately, the passage failed by a handful of votes. “They don’t have the votes, and they won’t get the votes,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for then Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV), a staunch adversary of the president’s drive. (This is the second time Senator Reid has had the distinction of being mentioned in my blog!)
Was this legislation good for the public? Generally speaking, it would have been great for the public! Most people do not realize the exorbitant costs of medical liability insurance. Grandma P used to work in a health system over ten years ago that had employed over 600 doctors. At that time, the lowest cost for liability insurance for a doctor was over $50,000 per year with OB/GYN doctors paying well over $150,000 per year. That was over 10 years ago, prior to when “Dubya” proposed this legislation!
So why did it fail in the US Senate? Short answer—greed. If this type of lawsuit were limited to $250,000 plus medical costs, lawyers would not receive the hundreds of thousands they expected to make prosecuting these cases. You need to get the settlements for these cases into the millions, before a lawyer can expect to make hundreds of thousands. The uninformed blame the high cost of healthcare on insurance companies. But “Dubya” had it right; the lawyers have really exponentially increased the costs of healthcare.
Example #2 – Class Action Lawsuits. Do you ever wonder who is paying for those annoying TV ads that start out: If you have ever suffered from one of these 150 symptoms and used the drug XYZ, call 1-800-UGH-DRUG now! You may be entitled to a settlement.” The intellectual people that read my blog know that these ads are sponsored by lawyers. More specifically, lawyers seeking billions of dollars from companies, keeping up to half of the settlement before dispersing the money to the affected clients.
This ploy casts a wide net. After hearing the 150 symptoms, I usually feel that I have suffered at least 6 of them without taking drug XYZ. Ringing in the ears? Yup. Upset stomach? Yup. There are times after listening to these commercials that I think I have suffered excessive menstrual cramps!
So why hasn’t there been any legislation to curb these class action lawsuits, and how do they tie into politics?
Everyone remembers John Edwards. Senator Edwards was the Vice Presidential candidate in 2004. Before his affair and ultimate divorce, Edwards had an estimated net worth of $55 million. How did he amass such a sum? Edwards was a lawyer that specialized in class action lawsuits against medical facilities and pharmaceutical companies. Apparently he was good at it, as some of his cases are legendary in the legal profession.
Again, this example points to rising healthcare costs and to a Congress that will not legislate any type of reform to curb these lawsuits.
Example #3 Term Limits. Even though this subject was addressed extensively in my January blog, “The popularity of term limits versus the popularity of ice cream,” it is worth mentioning again. As mentioned in that blog, 75% of the people believe there should be term limits for representatives elected to federal offices. In the early 90s, there was just such a push in the US. But with Clinton (a lawyer) as POTUS, and a gang of nine Supreme Court Justices (also lawyers), the issue was given more lip service than action. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled it “unconstitutional” that term limits be placed on representatives elected to federal office. Indirectly, this action protected a boatload of lawyers in these positions.
To be perfectly clear, the Supreme Court ruled term limits unconstitutional, but ruled that “Obama Care” is constitutional. Where is the “common sense” in these decisions?
Just how far will lawyers go to protect their occupation? We have all heard the expression,” Put your money where your mouth is.” Well, they have done just that. In 2012, lawyers and law firms where the number one interest group contributing to members of Congress, with total contributions of a whopping $54 million! For informational purposes, 70% of this money went to Democratic candidates, and 30% to Republican candidates. Remember Dubya’s proposed Medical Malpractice Limits proposal? It was defeated by the Democratic senators. With the money behind them as contributed by the legal profession, it is not difficult to understand why.
Why do we have so many lawyers in Congress, and in politics in general? Part of the answer is that we have too many lawyers. In 2009, just over 50,000 lawyers passed their required bar exams. During the same year, the job market had jobs for about 25,000 lawyers. In nice round numbers, we had twice the number of lawyers than were needed. Parents with kids in college or about to go into college may make note of this and attempt to direct your child into another occupation. We have shortages of healthcare professionals and engineers.
Do attorneys make the best politicians?
During the founding of our country, there were very few people with educations above the rudimentary level. As can be imagined, lawyers were a profession that had a higher education. They were necessary. They were revered for the documents they wrote to guide this country. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams: all lawyers that were President and contributed to the founding of this nation.
Today, even though lawyers still have a higher education, so do many other professions. Engineers, architects, medical professionals, and MBA’s are just some of the professions that are comparable to that of a lawyer. It always fascinates me how many generals and admirals in our military that have a PhD!
Is it possible that lawyers have outlived their use in politics? I say this because our laws are becoming more and more complex. So complex, that proposed legislation exceeds one thousand pages. The Obama Care proposal was over a thousand pages and was enacted with the majority of Congress not having read it. What attorney would have his client sign documents without having first read it? I would hope the answer would be a resounding, “NONE!” Simplified, common language laws without legalese would be appreciated. Are lawyers capable of doing just that?
Because it appears the number one problem facing this country in the next decade is going to be our over-inflated, under-funded federal budget, I believe that other occupations may have better solutions than a boatload of lawyers. Why? Because businessmen and businesswomen have got the experience to balance a budget. as they do it every day. They don’t have a printing press, and they can’t issue long-term bonds without equity. A housewife has to balance a household budget. A farmer has to balance his farm budget, because his farm is a business. I would like to see a mix of our representatives whose primary occupation is not “professional politician for life.” Surely the Democrats, of all people, can recognize and appreciate the need for such diversity.
I once attended a seminar about the different roles that various occupations have in our society. The speaker made the point that architects, engineers and contractors create wealth. This group designs and builds buildings for companies to create or expand their capacity; thus, hiring people and buying more materials which stimulate our economy. Lawyers, he went on to say, were in the business of redistributing wealth. They do not create wealth. In a divorce or a lawsuit, they take money from one party and give it to another. At the federal level, they take taxes from one party, and redistribute it to another. President Obama clearly spends a lot of time with lawyers. He, too, is in the business of redistributing wealth. I would prefer people representing me could balance a budget.
Maybe Shakespeare had it right in Henry the Sixth, Part 2 when his character said, “Let’s kill all the lawyers!” That is probably overreacting. After all, I am going out to dinner with one tonight, and I might need him to revise my estate plan. So sue me……….
4 May 2013 – How many non-attorneys would have wanted the surviving terrorist to be “read his rights?” In this case, the FBI was stonewalled during their investigation to determine if it was an individual attack, or the part of a larger plot. By making a stupid decision, the POTUS and his Attorney General have now indicated, by their actions, that our appearance to other nations is a higher priority than protecting the lives of possible future American victims. We must love attorneys as politicians, because we keep electing them.