I am starting to learn that one of the most challenging aspects of this job is going to be sifting through absolutely ridiculous briefs written by attorneys who give attorneys a bad name. Today, I actually read this sentence in a brief about a dispute over an insurance policy: "If you believe that the legislature does not want insurers to pay for the cost of enforcement, you are simply wrong." The brief went on to say, "if [what the other side is saying] is true, it means there is a giant sucking sound in Hawaii." That was this attorney's legal argument. The, "no no, you're wrong" approach, if you will. Sadly, the brief contained this type of garbage for 21 pages. The background section was equally flawed, which left me not only brain dead, but utterly clueless as to what the hell happened. I started to feel like I was the idiot for not understanding. I finally concluded that not only should this attorney be disbarred for absolute incompetence, but he should be arrested for charging a client to turn this in.
What really pisses me off about reading briefs like this (which happens all too often) is that it highlights just how ridiculous the whole "character and fitness" process is. According to their website, The National Conference of Bar Examiners "conducts character and fitness investigations on applicants seeking admission to the bar." The Michigan bar examiners put out literature where they claim, "In fact, the very first goal identified in the plan is to 'champion character and fitness.' It is appropriate that this particular goal is first on our list since there is no mission more important for the Bar than protecting the public from individuals who are not fit to practice law." (see here: http://www.michbar.org/journal/pdf/pdf4article597.pdf). You have to be kidding me. This is the biggest load of crap. For anyone not familiar with the process of applying to the bar, it's a nightmare. Although there are subtle differences between the States, they all have largely the same requirements. I will talk about Illinois, which is where I took the bar.
First of all, in Illinois, they charge $700 just to apply. Then they ask for 10 "character references" and force you to get your friends to fill out ridiculous questions like, "do you think this person has a good moral character?" Aside from the obvious problems in syntax, do they actually think anyone would give the name of someone who would say no? Also, everyone just uses their law school friends anyway. It's a sort of "tit for tat" deal. I'll fill your reference form out if you fill mine out. It's total crap. The bar examiners also have you list EVERY employer you have EVER had (yes, I had to put down the name and contact information of the ice cream parlor I worked in when I was 16). You then have to give names and contact information for people who can verify you worked there. They don't ask what kind of employee you were. They don't ask whether you were even moderately competent. No, that would make sense. They just ask whether you actually worked there. You could have been shit on a log at your desk, but as long as you correctly put the dates of employment down, you're good to go. So in the one area that might tell us something about how hard you'll work to uphold the "standards" of the legal profession, we really just want to know that you are going to show up. Even then, you don't actually have to be awake (In Texas, a man's death penalty conviction was overturned because his attorney fell asleep during parts of the trial. see here: http://www.fdp.dk/act/texas-sleeping.php). It feels a lot like going through airport security checkpoints that strip search the 80-year-old woman (http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2002/7/2/163539.shtml) but let the West Virginia hick holding a loaded gun go through (http://articles.cnn.com/2008-01-23/us/airport.gun_1_airport-security-transportation-security-officers-screener?_s=PM:US).
After the Board of Examiners has harassed your friends and former employers, it wants to know whether you have ever had any speeding tickets. This question seems innocuous enough. We want to know whether lawyers, who are supposed to uphold and enforce the law, have broken the law. The board also wants to know whether you've committed any crimes, been arrested, etc. But they get real "uppity" if you don't give EXACT information about those damn speeding tickets. Not just tickets in the last couple years. No, they want ALL tickets. They also want to know the DATE and COUNTY in which you received the ticket. I got an angry email telling me that I was not specific enough (I said I thought I got a ticket somewhere in Maryland sometime in July or August in 2002). They "threatened" to withhold recommending me for admission to the bar if I did not send them my complete driving record. It turns out I was right. I got a speeding ticket in July 2002 in Maryland. Good thing they are making sure I have a good moral character (there really is desperate need for sarcasm font).
Instead of being a filter to ensure a quality legal profession, the character and fitness committee is there to annoy and pester without any quality control. Are there good lawyers? Absolutely. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of terrible lawyers who make my day longer and more frustrating. That said, the bar results come out in a few days and the pile of shit on my desk may actually be from me and not the briefs I'm reading.