Justice Scalia Wants Dumber Lawyers?

Ken AshfordCourts/Law, Supreme Court1 Comment

As reported in the Wall Street Journal law blog, Justice Scalia has some interesting opinions when it comes to the quality of counsel that appears before him in the U.S. Supreme Court:

Well, you know, two chiefs ago, Chief Justice Burger, used to complain about the low quality of counsel. I used to have just the opposite reaction. I used to be disappointed that so many of the best minds in the country were being devoted to this enterprise.

I mean there’d be a, you know, a defense or public defender from Podunk, you know, and this woman is really brilliant, you know. Why isn’t she out inventing the automobile or, you know, doing something productive for this society?

I mean lawyers, after all, don’t produce anything. They enable other people to produce and to go on with their lives efficiently and in an atmosphere of freedom. That’s important, but it doesn’t put food on the table and there have to be other people who are doing that. And I worry that we are devoting too many of our very best minds to this enterprise.

And they appear here in the Court, I mean, even the ones who will only argue here once and will never come again. I’m usually impressed with how good they are. Sometimes you get one who’s not so good. But, no, by and large I don’t have any complaint about the quality of counsel, except maybe we’re wasting some of our best minds.

So…. from his perspective on the Supreme Court bench, Scalia thinks that, generally speaking, the quality of lawyers in today's bar is high.

But… according to Scalia, that's bad thing.

Say what?

Look, lawyers get a bad rap.  Sometimes deservedly so.  But to suggest that smart lawyers are wasting their time practicing law seems… well… dumb.

No, lawyers don't produce anything in society (neither do judges for that matter) but neither do, say, surgeons.  Does that mean a smart and accomplished surgeon is wasting his time?  That society would be better off if he had chosen a different vocation? 

Being a good "smart" lawyer does not mean that one can become a good engineer and "invent the automobile" (which, last time I checked, was already invented).  They are entirely different skill sets.  I know lawyers — brilliant lawyers — who can't program a VCR.

So what the hell is Scalia saying?