"The First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers"
The often misquoted portion of a statement in the Shakespeare play, King Henry VI, is frequently used pejoratively against lawyers without an awareness of the context from which these words are taken. That context yields a very different understanding of the role of the legal profession in a democratic society.
Howard Nations, J.D., a Texas attorney who is both a personal injury trial lawyer and a civil trial lawyer, explains in his article defending lawyers, "The First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers", Shakespeare's Tribute to Trial Lawyers, that:
"Even a cursory reading of the context in which the lawyer killing statement is made in King Henry VI, Part II, (Act IV), Scene 2, reveals that Shakespeare was paying great and deserved homage to our venerable profession as the front line defenders of democracy.
The accolade is spoken by Dick the Butcher, a follower of anarchist Jack Cade, whom Shakespeare depicts as "the head of an army of rabble and a demagogue pandering to the ignorant," who sought to overthrow the government. Shakespeare's acknowledgment that the first thing any potential tyrant must do to eliminate freedom is to "kill all the lawyers" is, indeed, a classic and well-deserved compliment to our distinguished profession."
Today's headlines about the courageous continuation of the "lawyers' movement" in Pakistan for the re-establishment of an independent judiciary against two successive repressive administrations, provides a modern day example of this important role that a nation's lawyers can play in preserving a democratic system. ( See: More arrests as Pakistan opposition begins protest march Kim Barker, Chicago Tribune )
A column today, in the JURIST, by Saeed Malik who is the younger brother of Muneer A. Malik, who was president of Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association in 2007, recounts how Pakistani lawyers and their allies continue their movement started against General Pervez Musharraf's and continuing under current president Asif Ali Zardari. Mr. Malik says "I have argued before that without a free and independent judiciary any experiment in democracy will quickly implode." He wonders whether the U.S. will support their efforts to re-establish the rule of law. Hopefully the U.S. can find its way to do so in the true spirit of the Shakespearean quote.