Lawyers Can't Afford Another Cheap Shot

Article excerpt

I WOULD LIKE to start off the new year on the right foot, especially with those I offended last year. I've been a columnist for only a few weeks, but it doesn't take long to make enemies.

In the spirit of conciliation, let me start with lawyers.

Recently I wrote a column about the nasty divorce of David and Deanna Walden, the Ellisville couple who went joy-riding in St. Louis as someone in their car sprayed black people with Kool-Aid.

"If St. Peter wanted to judge people by their worst moments on Earth, he would have their divorce files handy," I wrote. "Assuming, that is, that lawyers don't take all their files with them to Hell."

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. That, as lawyers know, is Latin for "If I had known I'd get in this much trouble, I would have kept my mouth shut."

It was a cheap shot, a throwaway line, and lawyers are a popular target. But I thought that was what real columnists - my colleague Bill McClellan, for instance - were supposed to do. This sort of thing generates mail, which in turn generates more columns. Bashing lawyers, I thought, was like a rookie ballplayer trying to act tough by hawking and spitting on the first baseman's shoes, or arguing with the ump. I never imagined that lawyers would take a cheap shot seriously.

Wrong. Lawyers, I now know, are a sensitive bunch. They are sick of lawyer-bashing, and they aren't going to take it anymore.

First, I received a blistering letter from a lawyer in Ladue who berated me for my gratuitous, cheap attempt at humor. Then I got a dignified letter from the president of the Missouri Bar, W. Dudley McCarter.

"You consistently offer very interesting and insightful observations," McCarter wrote, disarmingly. "More often than not, attorneys are asked to represent people in difficult circumstances. In such situations, attorneys try to do the best job they can for their clients."

McCarter's tone was instructive and cordial. He took the high road of criticism, which may explain why he, and not one of his intemperate colleagues, is president of the bar association.

Next came two intemperate letters to the editor from lawyers Arthur S. Margulis and David P. Weiss.

"I wonder if the Post-Dispatch really wants to be even remotely associated with this type of vitriolic hatred," Margulis fumed.

Margulis suggested that my personal hatred for lawyers motivated my column. Not only do I not hate lawyers, I married one. Two of my favorite public figures, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, are lawyers. I pay my personal attorney's bills without a whimper. I like her, too.

Weiss called me "nothing more than a sensationalist hack writer. …