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March 01, 2005

Why Are Lawyers So Despised?

Musclehead has a theory to explain why the public dislikes lawyers:

I would argue that our problem is with our priorities. We place far too much emphasis on the primacy of clients to the detriment of our obligation to our profession, our society and ourselves. No other profession requires such allegiance to a client--doctors can refuse to perform a procedure they feel unnecessary to the patient, accountants can end their work for a client they believe is bending the rules of GAAP, teachers can teach evolution even if a parent demands creationism, etc.

The legal profession has taken the notion of zealous representation to mean whatever the client wants. The big corporate client wants to bury mom and pop in discovery? Sure... we can do that. The medical practice wants to use experts from all four corners of the US in order to make deposing them costly and time consuming for the plaintiff? No problem. All we care about is winning. There is very little consideration of the costs.

It's not a bad analysis. On the other hand, practicing lawyers can put on the brakes without violating their duty of zealous representation to their clients. To use Musclehead's analogies, I don't have to perform legal procedures that are unnecessary, even if the client wants them; and I can withdraw from a case (usually) if the client wants me to bend the rules.

If you ask me, over-the-top advertising has done far more harm to the public image of lawyers than the duty of zealous representation, especially in recent years.

March 01, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

Perhaps along with over the top (Willie Gary?) another might be poor production. As strange as it sounds, I think our ad-savvy public has a more critical eye towards ads that have "dramatizations" of client injuries (with actors who are . . . inexpensive) and miscellaneous other production problems.

Posted by: Mackenzie | February 1, 2005 07:58 AM

Being a young practicioner (5 years out of school), I do not really know how lawyers were thought of back 15, 25 years ago. That said, people need lawyers for awful reasons--divorces, criminal actions, injuries, being sued. Those people are in awful situations, and those other lawyers (but not mine!) are mistreating me and abusing me. When they think back, they remember those bad times combined with the lawyer.

Posted by: David | February 1, 2005 08:05 AM

When in doubt, blame media. Every case where the big corporation or richer individual wins is a situation where the money bought the big powerful lawyer who crushed the normal person. But even when the little guy wins, he is praised for sticking up for himself in the face of the big corporation and it's expensive lawyers. The lawyer who won the case for him gets little or no credit.

Posted by: Taco John | February 1, 2005 08:43 AM

I think the advertising fear is a little overblown. The ABA did a study awhile back that found that advertising did not really effect the public's opinion of lawyers. Also the statistics repeatedly show that the poorer, uneducated members of the public, those who would recieve their information from an advertisment like lawyers more than those pesky college graduates.

Posted by: USCA | February 1, 2005 09:39 AM

USCA: I'll admit I might be hypersensitive to lawyer advertising. As I've said before on this weblog, I do it myself, but I try to be tasteful about it. I've heard stories, though, that some advertising by plaintiffs' lawyers is really getting out of hand--recently, for example, some plaintiffs' lawyers from Texas were complaining to me about some of the outrageous ads they've been seeing lately.

Is there a link to the ABA study?

Posted by: Evan | February 1, 2005 09:51 AM

Here are a few cites to law review articles discussing the study.

15 Ga. St. U.L. Rev. 315
66 U. Cin. L. Rev. 805
29 Seton Hall L. Rev. 1405.

Posted by: USCA | February 1, 2005 10:20 AM

Evan, the ABA study is Public Perceptions of Lawyers. There are many reasons for the ancient dislike of lawyers, as I discussed in my post First thing . . . quell all the liars. This disrespect for lawyers existed long before lawyers did any advertising (as I asked my ethics professor back in 1975, "why do the public respect General Mills more than they respect the Attorney General?") Nor is the core of the problem the focus on the client (if only it were!). The distrust has much to do with the public's feeling that dollars almost always come first for lawyers, while they hide behind slogans about putting the client first, and ascribe special "dignity" and status to themselves merely for possessing their law licenses.

Of course, it does not help that we so often see our lawyers for unpleasant reasons.

Posted by: david giacalone | February 1, 2005 10:43 AM

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