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In Encounter at Farpoint, Picard has a conversation with Q:

Picard: We humans know our past, even when we're ashamed of it. I recognize this court system as the one that agreed with that line from Shakespeare: "Kill all the lawyers."

Q: Which was done.

Of course, the embedded quotation comes from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2 (1591), and was likely a metaphorical expression about distaste for lawyers and litigation rather than a literal thirst for a profession-based genocide.

Despite this, we learn in the TNG era that the 21st century's experience with World War 3 and the Post-Atomic Horror was truly horrifying. The extent to which it really fit a traditional "post-apocalyptic" scenario was toned down slightly over the years, but never actually retconned. When I first saw the episode as a child, it made sense to me that something as nasty as the Horror could have included mass executions of practicing attorneys at the hands of disgusted citizens and that the reference was quite likely literal.

So, is Q being literal in that Earth-based lawyers were literally slaughtered en masse sometime between the 1980's and the 24th century or is he speaking more of a transition away from a litigation-based society and a corresponding reduction in the prestige of and necessity for lawyers on Earth? Are there any other episodes or secondary canon material that goes into more depth about specifically what happened here? In other words, were lawyers literally hanged, beheaded, drawn and quartered, strapped to lethal injection tables, disintegrated with plasma rifles, or otherwise dispatched with extreme prejudice or was it more that lawyers found themselves more and more out of work and pressured to transition to other careers like schoolteaching or dentistry?

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    That scene might have been a hidden homage to Heinlein's "The Number of the Beast--", where in one of the worlds that the protagonists visit, the history contains a reference to "the year they hanged the lawyers". Feb 2, 2022 at 15:10
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    Earth became a paradise shortly afterwards, so the answer is probably yes.
    – Valorum
    Feb 2, 2022 at 15:34
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    @divibisan It's easy if you try Feb 2, 2022 at 17:23
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    Some went into hiding near obscure desert communities to watch over potential future lawyers hidden with sympathetic families. Feb 2, 2022 at 17:43
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    @PaulD.Waite - Use the torts, Luke.
    – Valorum
    Feb 2, 2022 at 19:28

4 Answers 4

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Picard and Q don't refer to the court system on Earth or in the Federation. Remember, in "Encounter at Fairpoint" Q is putting humanity on trial. The quote is from a session of that court, so "this court system" or "this court" refers to, well, the court that sits in judgment at that moment.

This becomes even clearer if we look at the following few lines (quoted after Memory Alpha):

"I recognize this court as the one that agreed with that line from Shakespeare: 'Kill all the lawyers!' "
"Which was done."
"Leading to the rule: Guilty until proven innocent."
"Of course, bringing the innocent to trial would be unfair. You will now answer to the charge of being a grievously savage race!!"
"Grievously savage could mean anything. I will answer only specific charges."
"Are you certain you want a full disclosure of Human ugliness? So be it, fool."

It also doesn't mean that all lawyers were literally killed in the Q continuum. The key line here is

"Leading to the rule: Guilty until proven innocent."

So, in the court system Q is using here to judge humanity, lawyers (meaning defense lawyers) have been eliminated, resulting in "guilty until proven innocent".

Picard is basically trying to undermine the court he's arguing in front of, by painting it as unfair. Or he's just trying to buy time by sidestepping Q's line of questioning - who promptly reminds him to get back on track:

"You will now answer to the charge of being a grievously savage race!!"

So no, no lawyers were harmed in the creation of this story - at least not mortally ;)

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No, I don't think so. Recall that in the TNG episode The Measure Of A Man (2x09) Captain Phillipa Louvois had to rule in a hearing to establish Data's rights as a sentient being.

She actually served in Starfleet's JAG office. The existence of same seems to imply all of the lawyers weren't actually killed, or at least that the profession survived through to the 24th century.

https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Phillipa_Louvois

I always interpreted Q's "which was done" remark as being valid only in the context of Q's own court because he made himself judge, jury, and executioner, if necessary. In effect, Picard had to defend himself (and humanity!) alone, and Picard's line here expresses his frustration with the unfairness of that situation.

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    The existence of lawyers in the 24th century doesn't prove that all lawyers weren't killed some time in the 21st century. The profession could've been rebuilt from scratch afterward, rather than surviving all the way through the period in question. Feb 5, 2022 at 20:45
  • That is certainly true, but I'm taking Picard's reference to Shakespeare literally when he says "all" the lawyers--as in literally to the very last one. None escaped? None saw the writing on the wall and chose some other profession until the war was over? None worked for the side that won the war? I am not a lawyer, and I don't like them either, but this seems about as plausible as killing ALL the cockroaches or ALL the mosquitoes.
    – terafl0ps
    Feb 5, 2022 at 21:15
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    There was also the TOS episode "Court Martial" in which there was Kirk's lawyer Samuel T. Cogley, attorney at law, very much beholden to (presumably uninterrupted) legal traditions stretching back to antiquity, and his ex Areel Shaw, also very much a lawyer.
    – Anthony X
    Feb 5, 2022 at 22:32
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Yes.

It was briefly established in the Shatnerverse novels that 'post-docs' were rounded up and murdered en-masse in the early days of the Post-Atomic Horror. This presumably includes lawyers.

Especially since the Kansas Inquisition established mass hangings as the proper career path for post docs

Star Trek: Preserver

Probably Picard is using hyperbole when he says that all the lawyers were killed.

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The only way that somegroup of people could kille all the lawyers on would be if they ruled all the Earth and decreed the extermination of lawyers and that extermination was 100 percent successful.

At the present time there are about 180 to 200 sovereign independent states on Earth, depending on which criteria you use to decide who to count. I personally have never bothered to make up my mind about the exact number by taking sides in various political controversies.

In the eras of TNG, and the earlier era of TOS, and even the earlier era of ENT, the national governments on Earth seem to have all been either abolished or subordinated to the United Earth government. I believe that in a TNG episode someone discussed the hypothetical case of if Australia refused to join the United Earth until 2160, or something, which gives a rough clue to the date the United Earth was founded.

However, dialog in "Encounter at Farpoint" says that by 2078 the United Earth had been abolished. If those characters use the same calendar era, United Earth might have been founded and abolished by 2078 and then founded again by about 2160. But maybe they used different calendar eras.

The population of Earth in the year 2022 AD in our timeline is estimated to be about 7,956,000,000. The estimated population of the USA in the year 2022 AD in our timeline is 331,893,745, which is about one in 23.97152739.

Reportedly there were 1.330,000 lawyers in the USA in 2021. So that might make the total number of lawyers in the world about 31,882,131.43. But the USA has an unusually high percentage of lawyers in the population. The answer by Heidi Michael to this question estimates about 20,000,000 in the world in 2020.

But Star Trek happens in an alternate universe where history has been happening differently for many decades, and possibly many centuries or millennia, than in our history. So the number of lawyers before the third world war in the alternate universe of Star Trek would be unknown, but presumably in the tens of millions. The number of lawyers after the third world war would also be unknown, but presumably much lower, though still in the millions.

Obviously nobody ruled the whole Earth before the third world war, and after the war it would be much harder to rule even a single country than it had been before the devastation of the war.

So in my humble opinion only some countries and some societies abolished the legal profession, presumably by massacring all the lawyers they could catch, sometime after the third world war, when they started using the legal system seen in "Encounter at Farpoint". It would seem impossible for anyone to get everyone in the world to follow their agenda, or to even inform everyone in the world what their agenda was.

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    Are you really using 10 significant digits in your calculations? Can you have 0.43 of a lawyer?
    – doneal24
    Feb 5, 2022 at 20:41
  • @doneal24 Some are better than others?
    – Spencer
    Feb 5, 2022 at 23:25
  • @doneal24 in the US in the '70s the average family had 2.5 children. Birth rates have been declining, so, presumably, at some point that number dropped to 2.43 children per family. One of them shamed the family by becoming a lawyer.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 11, 2022 at 17:39
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    The .43 of a lawyer dropped out of law school before finishing. Feb 12, 2022 at 19:42
  • @doneal24 - I think we'd all be better off if lawyers were subdivided into sections and each household got 0.43 of a lawyer.
    – Valorum
    Aug 1, 2022 at 1:11

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