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THE DARK SIDE: An Aesop’s Fable for the legal eagles

David Ziemer

David Ziemer

It was January in Wisconsin, and I was sitting in my dining room, watching the cardinals and chickadees at the birdfeeder through the window. I was shoveling fistfuls of fresh blueberries imported from Chile into my gullet, while I pondered how wonderful international trade is.

But it wasn’t always so.

Back in the 1990s, I had a law office on Michigan Street in Milwaukee, and I belonged to a trade association that called itself the Michigan Street Bar Association. At first, we didn’t do much; maybe get together for a holiday party once a year.

But one day, we all caught this fever for locavorism, or eating locally grown food. The same fools who embrace locavorism quickly develop an appetite (pun fully intended) for enforcing their own limited choices on others and restricting everyone’s liberty of contract.

So it was with us. One day, our group of attorneys started going door to door to other businesses on Michigan Street, explaining to them how important it is to support small, local businesses. Then, if they refused to switch from their current attorneys to an attorney with an office on Michigan Street, we’d throw a brick through one of their windows that night.

Then, we’d come back in the morning, and say what a shame it was, and once again expound on the virtues of buying services from a local provider.

Eventually, all the businesses on Michigan Street got tired of fixing broken windows and came around to seeing things our way.

And it was good. We charged more for our legal services than any other attorneys in the state. Secure from any competition from attorneys who had offices on other streets, we also got used to providing really poor legal services.

We drank so much booze, hired such expensive hookers and generally lived so high on the hog, some people thought we were government officials. But no, we were just lousy, overpaid attorneys.

Of course, other streets in Milwaukee also had their own bar associations. One day, it was suggested that perhaps we could reach a free trade deal with the Milwaukee Street Bar Association, so that a business on Michigan Street could hire an attorney with an office on Milwaukee Street, and vice versa.

But that idea got shot down. The more zealous of the locavores in our group were quick to proclaim, “There can be no fair trade with attorneys who have offices on Milwaukee Street, any more than there can be fair trade with attorneys from South Korea, Columbia, or Panama.”

Unfortunately, our days of wine and roses did not last. We were such lousy attorneys, and we charged so much, that we lost all our clients who did not have businesses on Michigan Street. Meanwhile, the clients forced to hire us started going out of business, as a result of paying so much money for such bad legal advice.

The lawyers on neighboring streets had the same problem. The attorneys in the Milwaukee Street Bar Association were just as bad as we were, and their clients all went out of business for the same reason.

Take a walk around downtown Milwaukee sometime, and look at all the empty storefronts. That was us. We did that. We destroyed this city through our greed and our mindless protectionism. And to add insult to injury, the birds eat the blueberries from the blueberry bushes in my backyard before I can pick them.

So, what’s the moral of this little fable, you ask? The same as the moral of every other Dark Side: All restrictions of any kind on liberty of contract are immoral and ultimately self-destructive.

But you already knew that.

One comment

  1. “All restrictions of any kind on liberty of contract are immoral and ultimately self-destructive.”

    Dear Lord,

    I pray that this author’s eyes are opened before he is struck by a falling brick from his building and unable to sue his landlord for negligence because of a clause in 3 point type at the bottom of his lease prohibitting any suits against his landlord for negligence.

    Your humble servant, Heep.

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