Q: Why did the shark not eat the lawyer?
A: Professional Courtesy!
Q: What's the difference between a dead dog in the road and a dead lawyer in the road?
A: There are skid marks in front of the dog.
If you google Lawyer Jokes, you will get some of the nastiest and most vile depictions of attorneys you could and maybe even couldn't ever come up with. As an attorney and someone who has always had a great deal of respect for the legal profession and the law, I always wondered why this is the image that attorneys have in our society.
Lawyers seem to take the brunt of many jokes and negative feelings about our legal system and our society, but what causes these feelings of discontent and guile towards our profession? Lawyers are generally intelligent people, they possess a Doctorate in Jurisprudence (JD), they went to school for many years, went through the tortures of testing and the Bar and the majority of us have taken out massive loans in order to pay for or subsidize our education, yet we are treated with disrespect and angst.
Indeed, attorneys get a lot more flack than firemen, police officers even sanitation workers; what could cause such a great deal of societal hatred for our profession? While most attorneys are good and honest people; individuals who fight for their clients and safeguard the constitution, there are those bad apples that make us as a profession look bad; those that lie and cheat, those that steal client's money and betray their confidences as their fiduciary’s. However, that doesn't seem to be a valid answer either, because every profession has it's share of bad apples and and unsavory persons, so why do lawyers receive such guile, while other professions do not.
Perhaps the answer lies in our profession itself. As any lawyer (or at least any good lawyer) knows; learning statutes and codes, rules and regulations, and even case-law is only one part of our profession, after all a computer can seldom be a good lawyer. The other part, the part of our profession that turns science into craft, that turns the technical into the artistic is the creative argument. Yes of course, a great lawyer can take a law; massage it with case law, twist it with proper word organization and evidence, and polish it with a creative flare and spectacular courtroom performance and you've turned an unfavorable law into a victory for your client. But how does the public react to the artistic part of our profession. They certainly react favorably when their lives are on the line, but how do they react when it's someone else in the crosshairs of the law. Indeed this "artistic flare" can be seen by many as dishonest and wrong, and it is this that fuels the fire of this anger that our society has against lawyers.
Indeed though this hatred of Lawyers goes well beyond murder trials and Ponzi schemes, it goes into billing and even client relations. I have heard much anecdotal evidence over the years on client's billing disputes, but it took personal experience for me to realize that people don't understand or even appreciate the complexity and difficulty with which legal services are provided. Numerous client complaints about fees, especially when the fees are given at a discount have caused me to really look into the way people feel about paying for legal services. The examples which I'm discussing all had services provided competently and quickly and the desired results reached for the client; thus the client complaints and discontent have left me baffled. So I thought to myself, maybe the bad economic climate can explain this discontent over prices, so I continued on in my search for the answer. However, the severity of people's disrespect for attorneys only became fully clear to me when I saw how clients simply wouldn't wait for their turn to see either myself or another lawyer in our firm. Numerous complaints over 15 minute waits were rampant. However, I didn't truly pay much attention to this, until a particular day when I had to leave work early in order to attend a Doctor's appointment after dealing with several complaints over waiting times. There I sat and I sat in the waiting room, along with several others that had their appointments even before me for hours. Yet nobody got up, nobody complained, not a single person started any sort of fuss; and it dawned on me, these people simply have much more respect for Doctors than for lawyers, and I still couldn't figure out why.
Most attorneys (as with most doctors) do great work, we treat our clients (or patients) with respect, we provide an invaluable service and in many instances have people's livelihoods, citizenships, children, freedoms and even lives in our hands. Yet, still lawyers are the professional hit-men of civil society. We are hated, feared and loathed; but we are kept around simply for our usefulness in a time of need. We as a profession are treated like nuclear or biological weapons by most of the populous of non-attorneys. They feel that in most cases we shouldn't be around, that we are vile and offend the very sanctity of life and freedom, yet when S--t hits the fan they want us there as their protectors.
After my first year of law school ended (after many sleepless nights and much difficulty) I said to myself and to several of my friends, "nobody that hates lawyers ever went through this." However the truth is that no matter what people may feel (or say they feel) about lawyers; perhaps they say that we pad our bills, perhaps they joke how we lie and cheat for our clients, perhaps they jest at how criminal attorneys get their dangerous clients off on technicalities (although I don't think the constitution should be considered a technicality). Two things are and always shall be universally true; (1) society will always need lawyers to understand, interpret and advocate the law. And (2) and most importantly no matter how much someone hates lawyers they will never hate them so much that they don't want one when they need one and they will never hate us so much that they won't want their child to be one or marry one.
While I don't really have the clear answer to the question, this article was meant to address the issue and come up with at least some explanations for what is going on with the outside perception of our profession. I do hope that soon society at least begins to appreciate how much lawyers do and how much we are needed to safeguard the freedoms of our society. Someone once told me and it has always rang true with me that "lawyers are the only force standing as the defenders of law and order against the forces of anarchy."
By Mike Usher, Esq.