Civil Rights

Harvard Law Prof on 'Inc. Law' v. 'People Law'


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Larry Lessig. Photo by Wayne Slezak.

Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig contrasts “Inc. Law” and “People Law” in a commencement speech he delivered last month at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School.

One system works well, and the other doesn’t, Lessig said in his speech posted at Lessig Blog, v2. Here are portions of his message:

“There are plenty of lawyers in ‘Inc. Law’ who go home at the end of the day and feel that that system works. Their clients got the process they were due. Their arguments were heard. Their interests were fairly considered. If through litigation, litigation in a federal court: With great judges. Beautiful carpet. Clean bathrooms. If through a transaction, a deal cut in conference rooms at the Four Seasons. No doubt these lawyers work hard. Insanely hard. And the system rewards them with the sense that the system works.

“Not so with the law of real people. There is no one in the criminal justice system who believes that system works well. There is no one in housing law who believes this is what law was meant to be. …

“We can cure cancer today. We could, if we chose, feed every human on the planet, three times over.

But we can’t give an ordinary citizen an easy and efficient way to protect her rights. …

“We, all of us, have a duty to fix this. To repair this. To make it better. We lawyers in particular have that duty. And we make it better by practicing it better. By practicing the law of real people, and through that practice, making that law better. …

“When LBJ took up the cause of civil rights, he was told by his advisers he couldn’t. That he would lose, and doom his presidency. ‘What the hell is being a president for?’ he replied and then passed the civil rights act of 1964.

“Well I say, what the hell is being a lawyer for?”

Hat tip to Legal Ethics Forum.

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