Editor’s Note: I recently received the following letter from an old friend. I thought it might interest some of my readers.
This may come as a shock but I am writing to you from jail. As I now find myself with a lot of time on my hands, I thought I might share my story, and perhaps pass along a few important lessons that I’ve learned during this strange adventure.
It all began with what I initially thought was only the most trivial of offenses. I’m not a lawyer, as you know, and I never imagined that my actions would have any serious legal consequences. All my friends agreed, and advised me to quickly resolve my little difficulty with the help of a competent lawyer.
So I called a lawyer recommended by a trusted friend. Mr. Nocere said that he would be happy to represent me and that he was sure he could soon resolve my problem. The fee was quite reasonable. I was even more satisfied when he mentioned that he’d received extensive training in the precise area of law under which my case fell.
But one thing bothered me when I arrived at his office for my first appointment. I couldn’t help but notice that his office was adjacent to, and almost even seemed to be a part of, the offices of the organization, let’s call it Department X, which was the source of all my legal difficulties. I mentioned my concern to Mr. Nocere.
Nocere smiled and then explained that the location of his office was actually a huge advantage for both of us. Because of the location of his office it was easy for him to take all those advanced training courses which had made him the perfect lawyer for my case.
I didn’t understand. I didn’t see a law school here. In fact, the building only seemed to contain the offices for Department X and some other lawyers’ offices like Nocere’s. Nocere noticed my confusion.
“I understand,” he said. “Of course you would have no way to have known this. The courses were actually held inside the offices of Department X.”
“But why would a law school give courses inside the offices of Department X?” I asked.
Nocere smiled again, clearly amused at my naiveté. The courses, he explained, weren’t offered by a law school. The courses were given by Department X. Best of all, he added, the courses were free for all lawyers who wanted to take them. That was one reason his fee had been so reasonable, he explained.
I confess that at first I was somewhat skeptical. It didn’t seem to make sense. Why would my lawyer take lessons and advice from my adversary? I explained my concerns to Mr. Nocere. He leaned back in his chair and smiled.
“Let me answer it this way. Outside of your family, who do you trust the most in this world?” he asked, and his smile broadened.
That was easy. “My doctor,” I said. “I trust my doctor with my life. Always have.”
He nodded sagely. He explained to me that until recently, and because of the very concerns that I had expressed, lawyers had always paid for their own continuing legal education. But then lawyers noticed that most people really didn’t like or trust lawyers, but their fellow professionals, the doctors, were universally respected, even loved. Some lawyers wondered if they, too, could grow to be loved and respected.
It turned out that doctors, unlike lawyers, didn’t pay for their own continuing education. Instead, doctors were being continually offered opportunities to learn from an enormous smorgasbord of continuing medical education activities. They could go to a fancy hotel in a city or a resort, or at any major convention center, and learn from the biggest names in their field, and get a nice dinner as well. They could relax at home and take any of a myriad of online courses, again from the top names in their field. Or they could go to their own hospital or local medical school, where free learning opportunities were available all the time. And all completely free to any physician.
I was astounded. How could all this be free? I know that everyone in the medical profession is highly altruistic, but surely all this wasn’t being done for charity?
Again, Nocere smiled. Of course not, he said. It’s not generally known or appreciated, but industry– the companies that make the drugs, tests, and devices that doctors use to save our lives and keep us healthy, is incredibly generous in providing free education to physicians. In fact, they spend over a billion dollars each year to provide free continuing medical education to hard-working physicians. And everyone knows that doctors are solely and completely concerned with the interests of their patients.
Nocere then explained that lawyers, in an attempt to emulate their more highly respected fellow professionals, had adopted the physician model for continuing education. Now, he said, lawyers could go online and get all the free education they wanted. At legal conventions there were meeting rooms filled with famous legal experts who were eager to teach other lawyers about every imaginable topic. And it was all free. The lawyers were ecstatic, and only wondered why they hadn’t copied their medical cousins earlier.
But how does this work, I asked Nocere. Why would anyone want to pay for the education of lawyers?
Yet again, Nocere broadened his smile. So far the legal profession had had no trouble whatsoever finding willing sources of free legal education. Banks, mortgage companies, and other financial institutions were absolutely thrilled to offer free courses about mortgages, credit card regulations, and other financial services to lawyers, especially those who represented consumers. Large employers were only too happy to provide courses to lawyers about employment law and employee rights and benefits. Real estate companies were eager to support courses about property law. Networks, music and book publishers, and cable companies were only too happy to help their colleagues learn about intellectual property law.
Nocere’s explanation made good sense. I felt glad to be the beneficiary of this wonderful new educational system for lawyers. Then we turned to my legal situation. After carefully reviewing the case, Nocere told me that, based on all he had learned in his classes, my case just might turn out to be slightly more complex than he had at first anticipated. But I shouldn’t worry, he told me. He knew just the experts at Department X– right here in this very building– where he could get the best possible advice about my case…
…I’ll have to finish this letter later. The lunch siren in my cell block has just sounded, and the guards really don’t like it when we keep them waiting. I’ll try to write again soon and finish this story.
All my best,