October 26, 2006
Debunking Urban Myths of the Legal Profession: Help Stella Get Her Name Back
Posted by Alan Childress
You recently received yet another email reporting six outrageous lawsuits in which the plaintiff recovered jackpot money for injuries suffered after doing something evil (trying to sneak out a window avoiding a check, steal a hubcap, or rob a house) or monumentally stupid (RV on cruise control while driver gets coffee, thief locks self in garage for 8 days then eats dry dogfood). In fact the email was forwarded (actually 'FW: FW: FW: FW:...ed') to you by a non-lawyer friend as some proof that the legal system is nuts and, implicitly, that you are a tacit approver--if not the Nurse Ratchet--of this massive nuthouse. They are laughing at you, not with you. Fortunately there is an internet site with proof that refutes all sorts of urban myths, including the six current ones winning 'awards' for how they show the legal profession sucks. [Note on how this rock-paper-scissors belief system works: Websites are solid proof against Emails. Emails beat Nancy Grace.] Further proof that the urban myth is false: it originally attached a 7th story about the infamous poodle in the microwave--always a dead giveaway which explodes the myth. Meredith Miller used the site over on ContractsProf to debunk the contracts-insurance story about the guy who claimed on a fire policy after smoking his cigars...and won! But then got arrested for arson!! Lawyers are so technical and so clever!!!
Specific to the legal profession as a group, and spread by politicians via stump speech and not email, is the urban legend created when Dan Quayle asked, "Does America really need 70% of the world’s lawyers?" No, but... That number has no basis in fact, Marc Galanter has shown in his study of whether lawyers are fomenters of strife, corrupt, and in essence economic catfish. A corollary is the undercounting of Japanese lawyers by applying a U.S.-centric definition of 'lawyer'--followed by a claim to Japanese superiority based on their near-lawyer-free economy. You will encounter this one at a cocktail party. Tell them that Japan's 80 law schools graduate almost as many students as the U.S. does each year and where are they getting that crap? Don't get into the details (that pesky 2% bar pass rate) that nominally support their point. Ultimately the power of this myth--and it has been used powerfully--depends on comparing apples and oranges when it comes to tallying "lawyers" in various countries, as I previously detailed. The reality is that lots of law is being practiced in Japan.
At any rate, the email "award" always mentioned is the Stella Awards, named for a real person with a real case that has become the poster oldlady for tort reform: Remember that huge $judgment against McDonald's after Stella dropped her hot coffee in her lap at the drive-thru, ouch? Except the actual facts of this tragic accident have long been shown to debunk the legend in like ten real ways. The media and emails have not been fair to Stella Liebeck on her own suffering, and now her name is routinely attached to funny lies that end with a request that you support tort reform (or with your friend just trying to get you to admit that the profession is an ass). Don't, not on these terms.
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