Monday, September 15, 2014

The Allegory of the Cave...and lawyers.

In Plato's famous Allegory of the Cave, he explains why the people with lack of knowledge (cave knowledge) do not have true knowledge. Is the court system a modern-day, human-constructed cave?  

For an abbreviated explanation of the allegory of the cave, see:  

The people in the cave were essentially shown a false world and constructed their belief system on it.  This comes as no surprise because we believe what we see with our own eyes.   In the case of the cave, the cave captives who remained in the cave could not trust their eyes because their eyes deceived them.

The courts may seem like Plato's cave because, for some, courts are misunderstood.  Barring the issue of access to courts, and generally speaking, the courts are not like the cave.  The cave represents what people can't know. The nature of courts, unlike the cave, is designed to be usable, knowable, and observable.  And, for the most part, the entire process is open to all eyes for public review. Further, every bit of evidence is scrutinized by the court and the trier of fact.  Again, this is done in an open forum for controversy resolution; one that is open to the public for review.  Yet, court reps are often scrutinized for being part of a big mystery instead of respected for being a place to resolve disputed matters. So, how are the courts like Plato's cave?

There will always be uncertainty and mystery for people involved in the court process.  After all, there is an ever-changing and complex nature of how the legal process works within courts.  The process by itself can be a mystery and put someone, including lawyers, in the unknown. To successfully navigate through a case, you have to have content knowledge, top-notch legal research skills, and a thorough understanding of complex legal procedures.  (E.g. It would be highly unusual for a non-lawyer to successfully fumble his/her way through a complex multi-tort, class action, jury trial on the national stage.)

While it is true that lawyers tend to know more about how to navigate through the legal process, the information is not designed to be hidden from clients as it is in the Allegory of the Cave.  Everyone is presumed to know the laws, statutes, administrative codes, and procedure, which are all publicly created, public documents

So, is the 'process' itself a cave for the clients to exist in?  Some seem to believe that only lawyers and judges get to 'know the law,' and the way things work in court are 'hidden' from them.  Is this another way of accusing lawyers of being cave guards charging a fee?   They might have this belief, but they would be unduly harsh to those who makes a profession of helping others get through these controversies, especially lawyers who have entered the field motivated by social justice.

Plato was a philosopher. As such, he wanted to unearth truths.  The message in the allegory hinged on the notion that in order to find truth, we need to get out of our caves to find truth.  When it comes to going to court, a skilled attorney can be an invaluable guide. I suspect that Plato and his students would unanimously agree.