Tuesday, December 16, 2008


For the last few weeks, I have been following the Marc Dreier story in the New York Times--and not without a gleeful Schadenfreude. Watching a wealthy lawyer suffer for "acting like a lawyer" gives me great inward satisfaction. I ruthlessly satirize lawyers and their "profession." The Marc Dreier story provides happy corroboration for me. It lends credibility to my criticism. Now, if people claim that I am "too harsh" when criticizing lawyers for greed, superficiality, disngenuousness, glibness and moral bankruptcy, I must merely refer them to Marc Dreier.

Marc Dreier is--(well, "was")--a "top-notch" commercial litigator in New York. He went to Harvard Law School and made all the right moves in life. He founded his own firm in 1996 called Dreier LLP. Dreier LLP describes itself as "a unique group of talented lawyers and remarkable people who have joined in a professional enterprise vigorously dedicated to advancing our clients' objectives." Dreier LLP also says: "We believe the results have set our firm apart." Doesn't that sound nice? "Talented lawyers" and "remarkable people" acting in a "professional enterprise" to "vigorously advance" their clients' interests. And they "get results." How selfless.

What exactly do these "talented lawyers" do? What kinds of "results" set them apart? How about this one: Marc Dreier was recently arrested in Canada for attempting to defraud a Canadian Teachers' Pension fund in connection with a financing deal. Although the details are not clear, Dreier apparently impersonated someone in order to manipulate information that would have been important to know before doing the deal. In the process, Dreier was pocketing cash for himself. What a "remarkable person." What "great results." And what a "talented lawyer," too. Well, if he were more talented, he would not have gotten caught. There's a lesson for you, Marc.

But that was not Dreier's only "great result" in recent weeks. Specifically, it has come to light that Dreier personally defrauded dozens of New York real estate owners by selling them phoney promissory notes. Taking advantage of personal relationships he formed with several major investment houses, Dreier undertook to sell some "choice investment instruments" that actually did not exist. According to the New York Times, Dreier swindled up to $380 million from these deals. Again, a "talented lawyer" at work getting "results that set him apart." Nice one, Marc.

None of these monstrous allegations surprises me because I know what lawyers do. Lawyers are businessmen. They will resort to any means necessary to make a profit, even though they claim to "fight for justice." This "justice talk" is mere rhetoric. Lawyers ply the "law trade," which has nothing to do with intuitive justice or natural notions of right and wrong. The "law trade" concerns only technical compliance with dizzying external rules, standards and protocols. At times those rules are consistent with justice. At times they are not. But as long as a lawyer gets the "result" his client wants, he has done his job--justice or no justice. The lawyer inhabits a world dominated by petty rules and profit-seeking. There is nothing spiritual or inwardly uplifting about it. It is a world of property, money and profit. These are external matters. This is the law's province. As Martin Luther said: "The temporal government has laws that extend no further than to life and property and external affairs on earth." On Governmental Authority (1523). It is a vacuous, unfulfilling, cruel and twisted world where principle means nothing unless it can win a case.

Marc Dreier was a "successful lawyer" because he shrewdly used the law to enrich himself. He selectively used the law for maximum financial gain. In the process, he obtained "results" for his clients that "set him apart" from his competitors. With those "results," obviously his clients liked the way he worked, too. By successfully manipulating legal standards, Dreier became a "top lawyer." But what does that mean? After all, to be a top lawyer is to be a master of only "life, property and external affairs on earth." To be a top lawyer does not require inner strength, conscience, spirit, conviction or belief. Lawyers believe only what they must in order to win cases; they need not have abiding personal beliefs about anything. In fact, lawyers typify everything "un-spiritual" in life. Martin Luther put it best when he sharply distinguished between "men of faith" and "lawyers, ceremonialists and legalists." Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (1535). In other words, you can either have faith, belief and conscience, or you can be a lawyer. The choice is yours.

My satires target lawyers for all these reasons. There is a great deal more to life than maniacally pursuing property and success, yet this is generally what lawyers do. Worse, lawyers thrive on disputes over property and success. They "creatively" apply rules calculated to win property or to defend it. They know that men squabble bitterly over property, and they resort to any argument needed to win their fights. In essence, lawyers are little more than one-dimensional, spiritually-vacuous brawlers, yet they set themselves on a higher plane than everyone else. They cloak their vacuousness in nice suits and fancy language. They say they have a "profession," but all they really do is play with words in order to make or save money. There is nothing grandiose or spiritually rewarding about that. In Luther's terms, lawyers are quintessentially "of the world" because they fanatically dedicate themselves to "life, property and external affairs on earth." And most significantly, "the world is God's enemy." On Governmental Authority (1523).

What does Luther mean here? Certainly he was writing at a time when most people fervently believed in God. But whether you believe in God or not, Luther's rhetoric has continued strength. Luther makes his points through dualities. He draws striking contrasts between concepts in order to illuminate basic arguments. His distinction between "the world" and "God" has particular relevance in my analysis against lawyers. If the "world" means "life, property and external human affairs," then "God" must mean all those questions beyond earthly life and its property rules. "God" means conscience, faith, internal belief, spiritual well-being and intuitive justice beyond written law. If we do not have "belief and faith," we "become lawyers." That means we descend into "the world."

Marc Dreier epitomizes the dangers lawyers face through unwavering dedication to "world." Without conscience, belief, faith and spiritual well-being, there is nothing but property, wealth and bodily satisfaction. Because the "law trade" draws only on written rules and standards governing life, property and external human affairs, lawyers need not use their conscience to answer questions. They must merely comply with written standards. It is eminently possible to effectively comply with written rules without complying with justice. This is how Marc Dreier became a "successful lawyer." He simply became reckless, so that even his compatriots in "the world" recognized his deception. But Marc Dreier is a product of a spiritless "profession." It should therefore not be surprising that he acted the way he did, because lawyers win success when they ignore conscience rather than observe it. And because lawyers manipulate rules to defend property, it is understandable that they use the same rules to enrich themselves. It is all they know. They are "respected" for their "success," and this encourages them to take more and more chances.

Justice rarely appears in life, let alone the law. But happily, sometimes it does. Marc Dreier is reaping the consequences of his myopic dedication to "the world." Despite all his "success" and "talent" in the law, his failure to incorporate conscience into his existence has landed him in hot water. Still, I do not think that many "successful lawyers" will learn from Dreier's ordeal. They will merely adjust their practices to avoid detection. After all, lawyers inhabit a world where written rules solve every problem. They will simply keep their behavior within the rules, even if they completely trample the spirit behind those rules.

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