Vail Law: Ignorance of the law can be terrifying, but doctors save lives (column)
I was recently at the courthouse, shooting the breeze with a couple of other attorneys and telling one another war stories while awaiting an appearance before the court.
Suddenly, one of them said, “Isn’t it amazing how little most lay people know about the law?”
Another one said, “Some of this is stuff they should have learned in fourth-grade civics.”
And then I tried to think back to what I learned in fourth-grade civics, or anything at all I learned in fourth grade.
Now, it’s true that most folks know little to nothing about the law. But there are about a zillion things that most attorneys don’t know about a lot of other things. For example, I know next to nothing about particle physics, the mating habits of the prairie grouse or nearly anything at all about the respiratory system of a nematode.
What this discourse made me think about was a discussion I had years ago with my good friend, Ed, who is an OB-GYN.
Out of nowhere, Ed said to me one day, “You know, I think attorneys are more important than doctors.”
Now Ed, despite being an OB-GYN and not a lawyer, was most times as sober as a judge. Keep in mind that Ed had delivered babies, performed miracles with a scalpel, saved lives and generally made the world a better place.
All I could say was, “Because?”
Ed regarded me somberly. “Because people don’t know anything about the law.”
Summoning up by best “Gone with the Wind,” I said, “I don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ babies.”
To which Ed replied, “You know what a baby is, though. Right? And you know where babies come from?”
“Correct. And,” he said, impassioned now, “you know what a uterus is?”
“Well that’s more than most people know about the law.” He was emphatic about this.
His point was …
Then I listened to Ed explaining some legal to-do before I knew him and how confounding it all was and how the lawyers said stuff like “ipsie dixit” and all kinds of other legal mumbo-jumbo and how no sane person could ever follow along.
“And,” he said, “TV and movies really muck it up. You watch that stuff and you think you know how it goes. But it’s really nothing like that.”
“It’s TV,” I offered, “and the movies.” I thought of adding a “duh” but then I thought better of it. What I did say was, “Would you expect me to know how to perform surgery from watching MASH?”
“It’s just that when I tell a patient something’s wrong with, say, her ovary, 99 times out 100 times she’s got at least some reasonable idea what an ovary is and sorta what it does. But with you law jockeys, you sort of keep these secrets to yourself. None of the rest of us know what you’re talking about or how the rules — let alone your Illuminati procedures — work.”
As he was pretty exercised, I listened patiently. I wanted to tell him that although he was right, there was some advantage to having at least a common starting point, I’d wager that the rule against perpetuities was a bit less complex than the Krebs cycle or the miracle of cell division in a multicellular diploid eukaryotic organism. (OK, maybe my memory is a little fuzzy and I didn’t say exactly that).
Ed said, “You get pulled into a court of law and it’s terrifying. You don’t know what’s going on. You have no control. You feel like you’re surrounded by water and you’re being pulled under.”
“As bad as that?” I asked.
Ed gulped. “And then, of course, there’s the sharks.”
So I got his point. He was right at least to a degree. Law is less familiar to most folks that the knuckle of their pinky and the unknown can be frightening. So I said, “Yeah. I get it. But you’re still wrong.”
Ed looked at me, still shaken having remembered his ordeal.
“I’ve yet to save a life in a courtroom. Although lawyers have their role and a good one is invaluable when you need one, docs are more important.”
There we left it, Ed still a-tremble with the chilling memory.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddison, Tharp & Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody and divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.