Marc Galanter


No one watching the contemporary furor over the litigation explosion and lawsuits devouring America can fail to be impressed by the power of folklore to overwhelm workaday organized social knowledge. Time and again, the protestations of bean-counters and skeptics are vanquished by stories about perverse institutions peopled by malingering plaintiffs, greedy lawyers, capricious jurors, and arrogant judges, proving yet again that it is not what is so that matters, but what people—at least for the moment—think is so. Tenacious belief may not make it so, but can have powerful effects.

In this essay I address another cluster of folklore about the legal system—one that belongs more to our professional discourse than to the wider public debate, although it has its echoes there. I propose to examine the prevalent notion that the legal profession has fallen from an earlier condition of grace into an abject and debased condition. Many believe that lawyers, courts, and the law once displayed an excellence no longer in evidence. Contemporary discourse about law practice is laced by a sense of lost virtue and lost amenity and infused with nostalgia for the good old days.



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