The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill all the Lawyers

A2J with Angela by Angela Inzano

I was in NYC recently and saw To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway. I was thrilled, as it is a story I’ve loved since being introduced to it, as many of us were, in middle school English class. I was over the moon to see this performance in particular, since it starred Jeff Daniels and was adapted for the stage by Aaron Sorkin, someone for whom I am an unabashed fangirl. The show was a beautiful, modern interpretation. While the original might have been perfect for my idealistic middle school days, the more complex examination of what justice and empathy truly mean in our society today was just what the doctor ordered.

My obligatory “Playbill in front of the stage” shot to prove I was there!

It made me think about another pairing of Daniels and Sorkin – the television program, The Newsroom. My fiancé and I are, I think, two of only about five people who loved that show. On a personal note, I credit it with him being able to woo me with political conversations despite my protestations that I was studying for the bar and too busy and important for anything else.

In useless facts I learned today, did you know that this line appears in both Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually, and both scenes involve Hugh Grant?! You’re welcome.

The Newsroom featured an episode with the title “First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers” which is an oft-misunderstood Shakespeare quote. I adore Shakespeare as well (you’re learning all kinds of things about the woman behind the computer today) and have always loved the irony in this quote. While it might seem to be the OG terrible lawyer joke, in reality, the quote is about how lawyers disrupt the status quo and fight to correct injustice and inequality in our world. Lawyers, in this context, would need to be eliminated in order for injustice and chaos to rule the day.

Same, Will.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy for us to think this is a dig at lawyers, because our reputation has not always been so hot. In popular culture we’re depicted as sleazy, money-hungry, power-grabbing cheats looking to schmooze our way out of legitimate injustices. Of course, there are our notable exceptions. Our Atticus Finches. Our Vinny Gambinis.

Yes, I just put Atticus and Vinny in the same category. Prove me wrong.

Recently, I have been hopeful that our reputation is shifting. The positive coverage of the incredible mobilization of attorneys to the airports in response to the travel ban seemed a bright light in the public perception of what attorneys could do to correct injustice and help others.

Which is why I was, at first, so disheartened to read The Atlantic’s recent piece “The DIY Divorce.” The author is a middle-income woman seeking a relatively simple divorce. Her income is too high to qualify for free legal services through a legal aid organization or pro bono attorney, a reality for many middle-income families nationwide. She finds that even getting the process started feels daunting and intimidating, an experience familiar to most anyone who has visited the Daley Center here in Chicago.

However, the author’s belief that hiring an attorney would have had to cost her tens of thousands of dollars, and that an attorney would have made her relatively simple divorce more confrontational regardless of her wishes, was disappointing.

But then, I read the piece again. And my heart soared. Let me tell you why:

There is a hero lawyer!

The author gets some really exceptional coaching from a lawyer-friend of hers who helps her navigate the system on her own. As the author outlines, lawyers don’t always have to take on a person’s full case. Here in Chicago, the CBF Justice Entrepreneurs Project is proving this model of legal representation works through their focus on limited scope representation options like the coaching the author received, as well as document drafting and limited scope court appearances.

The author also learns along the way about online legal resources and the ways that technology can be utilized to improve legal representation and the court process. Here in Illinois for example, we’re lucky to have some great resources, such as the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice’s standardized forms and Illinois Legal Aid Online.

Reimagining the legal profession to include this spectrum of legal services could help many more people like the Atlantic author feel that they have an option that is affordable and tailored to their needs.

Of course, the author is right that legal help is often too expensive, and that the legal system is unnecessarily complex. She even touches on the way that court fees (for copies, filings, and new identity documents) can add up to be a real burden when you least expect it. Someone like the Atlantic author, anyone really, should absolutely be able to navigate a relatively simple legal matter without unnecessary confusion, confrontation, and monetary burden. We, as a legal profession, must work to make it easier for her to do so. More to come on that in future posts.

Justice doesn’t always come easy, or at all, as we learn in Mockingbird. But it doesn’t have to be unnecessarily hard either. We can do better. We are doing better. Let’s keep making Shakespeare, Atticus, and Vinny proud.

What, not the version of Shakespeare you were picturing?


About the Author:

HeadshotAngela Inzano is the Senior Manager of Advocacy and Engagement at the Chicago Bar Foundation. Since 2015, Angela has managed the day-to-day operation of the CBF Legal Aid Academy and the CBF Pro Bono Support Program, and assists with the CBF’s legislative and policy advocacy work. Angela also staffs the CBF’s Young Professionals Board, the CBA’s Legal Aid Committee, and supervises CBF interns.

Prior to joining the CBF, Angela was a Staff Attorney and the Policy Project Coordinator at The Family Defense Center. Prior to the FDC, Angela was a Public Interest Fellow at Lambda Legal. Angela earned her law and undergraduate degrees from Loyola University Chicago. While at Loyola Law, she was involved in the school’s Life After Innocence and Civitas Child Law clinics and served as a fellow at its Center for the Human Rights of Children.

Angela successfully completed the Chicago Marathon in 2012, enjoys traveling as well as politics, and is a novice “foodie.”

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