Dick the Butcher was a minor character in the middle work of a trilogy of plays the Bard wrote about Henry VI. I’m a Shakespeare fan, but I have to say, I find the Henry VI plays a little dull (“plodding” is probably the best word to describe them). Part 2, the least plodding of the three, has the largest cast of characters of any of Shakespeare’s plays, and if it weren’t for 10 little words, Dick the Butcher would be largely forgotten. But those 10 words live on and on, in t-shirts and bumper stickers and coffee mugs and anything else you can slap a quote on.
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
It’s in a (sorely needed) comic relief part of the play: Jack Cade is talking about how great things will be when he’s in charge. A penny will buy seven half-penny loaves, it will be a felony to drink light beer, no one will have to use money anymore because Cade will provide for all. Kind of like back in high school when kids running for class president would promise better lunches and shorter class days. Dick chimes in with: and killing all the lawyers! Cade agrees — “that I mean to do” — thus apparently the Cade for Pres. banner would read, “Strong beer, Food for all, No lawyers!”
So, with a lead-in that was so long I only have to come up with five of these, here are the top five reasons NOT kill all the lawyers:
5. Who else can create money just by talking to each other? If a lawyer calls another lawyer about a case, voila! A billable has been created! It’s almost like magic. That’s got to be worth something, right?
4. Where would Presidents come from? More lawyers have been President of the U.S. than any other profession, by a long shot. Millard Fillmore, Benjamin Harrison, Richard Nixon, just to name a few. Compare the list of lawyer Presidents to non-lawyer Presidents like James Madison, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman. And with Ted Cruz & Hillary Clinton, we — eh, never mind. Maybe scratch this one. Back to four.
4. We can see both sides. Even when there are not two sides, like when a famous playwright writes, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Many lawyers now pretend it came when Cade and his band were plotting to overthrow the king and they thought killing all the lawyers would somehow make it easier to break the law (see this WSJ article). What are the lawyers doing in that interpretation, pulling overtime as the police and army? We’re valuable, but I’m not sure we’re the only thing standing in the way of anarchy. (And if we are, God help us!)
3. We make people feel better about their jobs. Back when I was in Biglaw, people would tell me about their jobs and qualify it with something along the lines of, “but I just do it to pay the bills,” meaning I shouldn’t judge them that it’s not that interesting. Then they’d ask what I do and I’d start talking about securities law and contracts and parsing through dense texts, and I could see their eyes start to twinkle and their outlook brighten as they realized, hey, maybe they don’t have it so bad after all! Schadenfreude.
2. We bring people together. Why does nearly every dispute settle? Lawyers. Two parties start out hating each other, and then after a few months of dealing with lawyers and dipping deeper and deeper into their savings to pay ever-increasing legal fees, they start to think, hmm, maybe he’s not such a bad guy after all, and me and him can work something out.
1. People never know when they’re going to need us. Even people who say they hate lawyers won’t hesitate to call one when life doo-doos on them. We send threatening letters, intimidate the poor, try to soothe outraged prosecutors, and crusade for justice, even when a client’s idea of justice may be somewhat perverted (like intimidating the poor). As much as non-lawyers might be jealous of our long hours, our massive student loans, our alcoholism, and our high suicide rates, I don’t think they’re going to be killing us all anytime soon.