Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Should the law "recognize" friendship?

And if they ever put a bullet through your brain, I'll complain.
It's friendship, friendship. Just a perfect blendship.

Cole Porter
This is rich. I have to say that when I read this article in the journal Policy Review, I scratched my head wondering if I'd stumbled onto their April Fool's Day issue.

The article is entitled Friends and the Law and is by Hastings law professor Ethan J. Leib. I've always been interested in law but I do not pretend to understand its myriad subtleties. In fact, I am often completely confounded by the intricacies of complex (I would say convoluted) legal arguments that I've attempted to apply my meager logic skills to. This has not stopped me from trying though and when came across this paper, I thought, what the heck.

Leib's basic thesis, if I understand it correctly is that 'friends matter'. He spends the first half of his paper firmly establishing this decidedly noncontroversial point. But he goes further. He believes that the law should recognize friendship as a fundamental relationship deserving of legal gravitas in the same way that family ties do.

To argue this point, he points out some of the many ways that the law singles out familial relationships for special treatment.

Spousal privilege, for example, prevents one marriage partner from having to testify against another. Family ties are taken into account in sentencing hearings. Issues of family leave, laws of inheritance and numerous parenting issues also demonstrate the accommodations for family made by the judicial system.

Why then, he asks, doesn't friendship enjoy similar recognition? This apparently rhetorical question then leads him to the following recommendations:
  • Tax deductions for "friend expenditures" such as the cost of driving a buddy home after his colonoscopy.

  • The ability of a friend to sue for loss of companionship in wrongful death cases.

  • The institution of "Friend Leave" acts granting time off work to take care of friends.

  • Government mandates requiring municipalities to design and establish congenial public spaces that facilitate friendships.

  • Incentivize foot as opposed to car traffic to promote face-to-face interactions.

  • Although there is no legal requirement to rescue a stranger, Leib advocates creating such a requirement to rescue a friend.

  • My favorite: post signs encouraging citizens to smile at one another.
Leib admits that his last suggestion reminds him of a particularly silly Seinfeld episode. Despite this embarrassing association, he still advocates the signs.

I can only hope that neither legislators nor trial attorneys read the Policy Review. If either of these parties get wind of this article, courts will get a lot more clogged up, malpractice insurance will get a lot more expensive, the dead and dismembered will have a lot more friends than they ever knew existed, and life will get a lot more tedious.

At the risk of being thought a curmudgeon (or worse) I confess that I hope never to see a "Have a Happy Day" sign posted with taxpayer dollars...It might make me want to hit someone.

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