No. 1, June 9-22, 1967, p. 7
Steve Nelson: Legal Hang-ups

Here at the beginning let us see where we are and where we are going. This is a column about the law, a subject which many of you, often myself included, find to be a drag. Nonetheless, there are a few areas of the law which would be interesting and even valuable to know something about.

Ever hear about drug laws? The draft? Legalized discrimination against nonconformists to the mores of this society? These are the sorts of things we will be getting into and which will determine to a great degree the frequency and longevity of this column.

It should be observed that this is a newspaper column, and not a legal document nor an article in a purportedly scholarly legal journal. That means it aspires to be readable as well as informative. And so even though it goes against the grain of my legal training, I will strive to avoid using "whereas," footnotes, and similar legalistic space fillers. (Being a Gemini, as is The Avatar itself, I can do this.)

Hopefully, this column will not be a drag. If I made it all the way through law school, then you should be able to make the effort to pick up on where your rights and wrongs are at. And if I put aside my own paranoia at doing something like this, I would say that you will really dig some of this.

For this first issue I thought I might cut you in on one of my own problems, and at the same time afford you a little peek at the legal profession. It seems that all law students from time to time get to peek reverently at a little pamphlet entitled The Canons of Professional Ethics. It is the lawyer's Bible, and therefore of no consequence during weekdays. There is one for judges as well, by which they are told that, despite the majesty and augustness of their positions they are nevertheless allowed to have friends. Perhaps not a radical doctrine, but damned liberal. Better than having friends is having well-placed friends, particularly if you aspire to such an exalted post.

In any case, The Canons frown on what is called the unauthorized practice of law, a prohibition backed up by criminal sanctions in the Massachusetts statute books, up to six months and a $100 fine the first time out, one year and $500 if you come back for more. This is intended to protect the public from unqualified shysters, qualified shysters being authorized to practice as long as they cool it and do not push things too far.

"Qualified" and "authorized" mean that you have passed the Massachusetts bar exam (an exercise in self-deprivation and rote memorization), had your character approved by a committee specializing in such matters, and been sworn in. Thus, although I am qualified elsewhere, in this state I fall in the unqualified nonshyster category, from which you, the public, are to be protected. Do you sleep the better for it?

Something The Canons forbid even lawyers to do is advertise directly or indirectly. Basically a good idea, if everyone were into it. But in effect it's a nice way to maintain the division between the haves and the have-nots (clients and money) and avoid nasty price competition. I wonder why rebels, reds, and rabblerousers are not drawn to the law, in the practice of which the American way of life is unprofessional. And while overestimating the worth of one's advice and services is frowned upon by The Canons, undervaluing them is also to be avoided. Why give something away when you can be paid nicely for it?

Among the types of indirect advertising prohibited by The Canons is "furnishing or inspiring newspaper comments" about one self. That practice, as well as "all other selflaudation." (shame) is said to "offend the traditions" (Bleak House) and "lower the tone" of the profession, and to be "reprehensible." Could anyone sink that low?

However, a lawyer "may with propriety write articles for publications in which he gives information upon the law." General information can be given, but specific individual advice is available only to paying clients. And what is propriety? We'll see what I think it is as we get into this. And although I am forbidden to be a Dear Abby, Esq. (lawyers use that title after their names when writing to one another), I hope to get reader feedback as to the sorts of general problems it might be interesting to discuss.

In the immediate future I anticipate outlining for convenient reference the state and federal drug laws, so that you will be somewhat more aware of what our lawmakers think of what some of you may be doing. One up tight cat really asked me once if capital punishment were inflicted for certain drug offenses. It ain't so, but some people have received a fairly unfriendly reception at their local precinct house.

We will also be concerned with the really critical subject of search and seizure, or, what to do when the sound of jackboots echoes (if you're that lucky) in the hallway. On the other hand, sometimes those fuzz are besandaled, and perched five or six feet below a real head of hair. Then you have yourself a fink, perhaps a live narco cop in drag, or some other such parasite. In the Los Angeles Free Press it was speculated that a hippie-straight polarization of society could produce a massive espionage and counter-espionage network so vast as to support the economy. Jobs for all. Have you seen your mother, baby?

So much for, our little introduction to the legal profession. Reprints will be available to law school admissions officers to send to promising potential students. I will leave the rest of you with the words of Canon 32 (yes, they are numbered and there are more than ten of them). It is entitled "The Lawyer's Duty in Its Last Analysis," and declares that a lawyer "advances the honor of his profession and the best interests of his client when he renders service or gives advice tending to impress upon the client and his undertaking exact compliance with the strictest principles of moral law."

Y'all be good, ya hear?

Steve Nelson