Despite having grown up in a family of endless lawyering, I don’t have a lawyer. Do people even still have lawyers? I mean, in the old-fashioned sense in which ordinary, everyday people used to have their family doctor and their family lawyer? The United States has more lawyers than ever, of course, but maybe people now use them like rent-a-car agencies: You open up the phone book and start calling around to see which one has what you need.

Need being a relative term. One sees billboards and phone-book ads that might as well read: "Been in an accident? An argument? An unpleasant conversation? Had any human interaction at all within the last seven years? SUE SOMEBODY! Come visit us at Spenlow and Jorkins, and we’ll tell you how." Anyway, I don’t actually have a clue how to find a lawyer, and it probably says something about my isolation¯"Why no, Mr. Spenlow, I haven’t had much human interaction recently"¯that I know probably dozens of law professors and Washington political-appointee legal counsels and even federal judges but hardly a single workaday lawyer.

Still, from time to time, the conversational parlor game of lawyering comes up: If you were accused of a crime, who would you want to defend you? Would you want the same kind of lawyer if you were innocent as you would if you were guilty? I first met Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz when I had him on my old radio show in Washington five or six years ago, and though he’s swiped at me in the time since, I still think he’s someone I would call if I were arrested. (Not that I could afford him, but we’re playing a parlor game here.) I doubt, though, that I’d ask to defend me some of the most-impressive legal philosophers I’ve met or read. The first thing I’d want is somebody who’d want to get me off, not somebody who’d want to vindicate a legal theory.

Or is that unfair? Anyway, all this was prompted by reading ( via Jonathan Last ) a fantastic story in the sports pages of the Los Angeles Times about the check the National Basketball Association still writes every month to the owners of the St. Louis Spirits, an American Basketball Association team that folded in 1976. In a nutshell, the story runs like this: The owners of one of the ABA teams that wasn’t going to make it into the 1976 league merger got the other teams to agree to a payoff with a percentage of future televisions revenues. It didn’t look like much at the time, but that percentage has now netted them $168 million and continues to pay.

The lawyering connection comes in the newspaper’s description of the contract, which has never been broken despite repeated attempts by the NBA. In the parlor game of lawyering, if you ever need business lawyers, you really, really want the people who drew up this contract¯which includes many great elements, but especially this fantastic line: "The right to receive such revenues shall continue for as long as the NBA or its successors continues in its existence." And, just for the record, you probably don’t want the people who advised turning down the chance in 1984 to buy back the contract for $8 million.

Articles by Joseph Bottum

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