Q. Exempting us from stay-at-home orders designed to keep people healthy, some states let lawyers go to the office to provide “essential” services. Are we really “essential” or are they just trying to kill us?
A. If we want to maintain a healthy society, lawyers are more “essential” than ever.
Facing a global pandemic, states must act decisively to save the lives of their citizens. Praised for swift action, popular governors have restricted our freedom in the name of public safety. Breaking from “business as usual,” these leaders have shut down many businesses and, in the process, have disrupted the very lives they are credited with saving.
These may be necessary evils. Yet they are evils nonetheless.
In times of chaos, rulers claiming a popular mandate to wield extraordinary power are often prone to abuse it. Without the delay of due process, they may eradicate a lethal plague with great efficiency. But they may also extinguish the checks and balances on which our republic endures.
Unlike those who place health above democracy, good lawyers argue for both. Unwilling to sacrifice the overall health of our society, we fight to preserve rights which powerful leaders may disregard. When politicians devise plans to preserve human life, we work to protect Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
All persons may be created equal. Yet few provide services which are as essential to society as those provided by lawyers. Shutting down movies, bowling alleys and bars may impair the happiness of some, but shutting down members of the Bar would ignore the interests of all.
To ignore the “essential” value of our services is to ignore the rights of those we represent. This has already occurred in states that exempt law enforcement as an essential service, but fail to label lawyers the same way. More than mere semantics, their “shelter-in-place” orders would let police and prosecutors charge us with impunity while putting defense counsel on home detention. This distinction alone may deprive us of our liberty and obstruct our ability to fight for our freedom.
Without lawyers, who would help us navigate the maze of new regulations implemented to combat this invisible hazard? Who would advise businesses on the government aid available to keep their companies afloat, negotiate commercial rent abatements, or seek protection from creditors in bankruptcy?
As nursing homes become death traps for the elderly, elder lawyers advise their loved one on other options for care. And, conversely, those who fear for their lives turn to lawyers with increased urgency to draft estate plans, advanced health care directives, and other key instruments.
With a virus that has disrupted every facet of life, lawyers play a vital role in restoring it to order. Upholding the rule of law, we give crucial guidance in a rapidly-changing and uncertain world.
If we prefer the unchecked power of paternalistic leaders, we would do well to silence these lawyers and confine them to their homes. Or, as one Shakespearean anarchist proposed, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
As “juris doctors,” we may not provide the life-sustaining treatment that medical doctors do. But without us, we will not maintain a truly healthy society.
Nothing could be more essential.