• November 26, 2014


The 13th amendment to the United States Constitution provides that, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

What is “involuntary servitude”?

‘Involuntary servitude’ consists of two terms.

‘Involuntary’ means ‘done contrary to or without choice’—‘compulsory’—‘not subject to control of the will.’

‘Servitude’ means a condition in which a person lacks liberty especially to determine one’s course of action or way of life. Involuntary servitude involves a condition of having some of the incidents of slavery. It may include situations in which persons are forced to return to employment by law. It may also include persons who are physically restrained by guards from leaving employment.

United States v. Kozminski, 487 U.S. 931, 936-37 (1988).

When a lawyer is not being paid by her client and a court orders her to continue to work for the non-paying client when she wishes to do something more rewarding with her time (go figure!), is this not involuntary servitude? It’s kind of close, is it not?

Why are lawyers so darned expensive? Well, part of it is that we are forced from time to time to work for free. Seriously.

Post-script: It might be offensive to some that I dare mention slavery and a privileged lawyer’s transient set-back of having to work for a non-paying client in the same post. To those who are offended, I apologize. Don’t worry though. I fully recognize the stark difference and I do not mean to minimize or trivialize the unspeakable horror of true slavery.

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