“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”
Dick The Butcher (Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part II)
One of the most enduring of Shakespeare’s famous phrases - to the chagrin of many who have chosen the law as their vocation - is “let’s kill all the lawyers”. It’s right up there with “To be, or not to be” (Hamlet), “All the world’s a stage…” (As You Like It), “Now is the winter of our discontent” (Richard III), and “Parting is such sweet sorrow” (Romeo and Juliet).
And, its meaning has long been the subject of debate. As Olivia Rutigliano wrote, recently, on the Literary Hub website (lithub.com)…
“Approximately four hundred years after Shakespeare’s death, this pithy phrase has become one of his most famous witticisms, appropriated often to disparage the legal profession, or at least acknowledge the ubiquitous caricature of the crooked, overpriced, counselor.
But the context in which Dick utters this phrase is key to understanding its true meaning. And there still are several possible readings.
Dick is a villainous character—he is a large, threatening murderer, and he is also the right-hand-man of Jack Cade, who is leading a rebellion against King Henry. Cade and Dick are aggressively anti-intellectual; they kill anyone who can read and burn all the books and documents they encounter. They know that they’ll be able to take over an ignorant population with greater ease than one where everyone understands their rights.
One reading of this strange quote suggests, therefore, that society could not exist in a state of fairness and peace without the protectiveness of both the law and its staunch guardians. Dick is suggesting that, in order for their coup to prevail, they must eradicate society of the very defenders of justice who could both stop the revolt he intends to help spur and then remove the power he hopes to grab for Cade.
But! As scholar Daniel Kornstein notes in his book Kill all the Lawyers: Shakespeare’s Legal Appeal, this quote could also have been a class-focused criticism of lawyers, a group of professionals committed to securing the interests of the wealthy. Cade is a laborer and longs to overthrow the oppressive upper-classes, and Dick recognizes that lawyers stand in their way.”
Rutigliano concluded, “’Let’s kill all the lawyers’ is a complicated phrase that (somehow always) refers to the importance of maintaining [a] fair rule of law that protects the people. Whether lawyers symbolize evil or good is almost irrelevant; the most important thing about this quote is the upholding of a fair and just law system, itself.”
British Columbia’s Human Rights Tribunal recently delivered a strong message that disparaging the staunch guardians of the legal system (that’s us!) is not a recommended legal strategy. Though I have dealt with some difficult individuals, I cannot recall ever – in my almost 30 years of practice - seeing a scenario of this type.
Sasan Miremadi was an employee of the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and, in 2019, he filed a human rights complaint against his employer, alleging discrimination in employment on the basis of race, colour, ancestry, and place of origin. After the complaint process had been underway for some time, the Fairmont applied to dismiss Miremadi’s complaint.
The Fairmont alleged that Miremadi had communicated inappropriately with its legal counsel throughout the proceeding, and that in these circumstances, it would not further the purposes of the Code to proceed with the Complaint. The Fairmont said that Miremadi had repeatedly sent rude, derogatory, and demeaning emails to its legal counsel, targeting her personally, and that in some instances, inappropriate personal comments have been based on her race or ethnicity and that Miremadi had made serious and baseless allegations against her.
And, indeed, Miremadi had done just that. The Tribunal’s decision listed the litany of toxic, inflammatory, and insulting communications he had sent to Fairmont’s legal counsel. As the Tribunal summarized…
“ I find that many of Mr. Miremadi’s communications to Respondent’s counsel, some of which he also sent to the Tribunal, constitute improper conduct. In the context of Mr. Miremadi’s “indignation” at Respondent’s counsel representing the Respondent despite her race, Mr. Miremadi has called her a dirtbag, jerk, scumbag, asshole, “low of the low”, scum, bottom feeder, unprofessional, a “sell out defender of racism”, a “disgusting human”, a “disgraceful defender of bigotry”, and a “disgrace to the fight against racism”. He has told her to “go to hell”, that she should be ashamed, that she is “selling [her] soul to evil racists”, that she is “another racist sympathizer to the systemic racism culture”, and said “shame on you for going against yourself”. He has also made serious and unfounded allegations against Respondent’s counsel personally, and against her law firm.”
Throughout the complaint proceedings, it appears that Miremadi’s communications with Fairmont’s legal counsel were highly inflammatory and sanctimonious, challenging her honesty, integrity, and professionalism. It also included an attack on her firm, calling them a “sociopathic racist law firm”. The Tribunal went on to state…
“ … Mr. Miremadi’s communications with Respondent’s counsel have targeted Respondent’s counsel personally, and, occasionally, have targeted the Respondent’s human resources employees. His communications have been consistently rude, derogatory, and demeaning. In some instances, Mr. Miremadi has made offensive comments that are clearly based on Respondent’s counsel’s race. The context of the Complaint and the Tribunal’s process does not explain or justify this.”
Throughout, Fairmont’s counsel (who surely deserves some sort of a medal for her patience and civility) responded to Miremadi “professionally and courteously” even though he had accused her, “without foundation, of being dishonest, deceitful, deceptive, negligent, unprofessional, hypocritical, and of manipulating the Tribunal” and of “defamation, perjury, deliberately withholding documents, conflict of interest, and personally violating his human rights.”
In dismissing Miremadi’s complaint, the Tribunal concluded (in part)…
“ Considering all of these factors, I find that proceeding with the Complaint would not further the purposes of the Code.
 … [T]hese are not ordinary circumstances. Mr. Miremadi has used the Tribunal’s process to personally target the Respondent’s counsel, including based on his view that she should not be participating in the Tribunal’s process to represent the Respondent because of her race. This is not what the Tribunal’s process is for. It would counter the purposes of the Code to condone Mr. Miremadi’s conduct, and it would not further the purposes of the Code to proceed with the Complaint in the circumstances.”
While being friendly (or at least civil) to opposing lawyers won’t necessarily get you anywhere, it seems that being nasty to them definitely will get you nowhere. You don’t have to love lawyers, but perhaps just let them do their job in a civil, courteous atmosphere. (Bonus tip… also, try to avoid acquiring the nickname, “Dick The Butcher”.)
This item is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. Informed legal advice should always be obtained about your specific circumstances.