The Publics’ Attitude about Lawyers in General, Will Eventually Hurt You
This week has been a series about tough love in the legal arena. The general public wants lawyers, who act nicey-nice, don’t charge too much and who shouldn’t care about tort reform. Problem is that as soon as we act and think like this the general public loses.
Take as an example the Madoff situation. For over ten years he operated a Ponzi scheme and where did you read bad news or commentary telling investors to be wary of his promises? Other than Harry Markopolos where were the licensed stock brokers and news reporters warning us about this type of investment scheme? Since he was caught have you seen the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the ATRA or any of the other pro-business organizations stand up and say enough is enough, we need to regulate these fraudsters and beef up auditing to stop others from doing the same to your investments? If I’ve missed them please point them out to me. And why is the US Chamber so quiet? Ask yourself that question and if you come up with a credible answer I’ll wash and wax your car.
As lawyers we need to talk directly to the public and when they create unrealistic expectations we need to take them on directly and stop pandering to unrealistic public perceptions. After all we are lawyers not priests. We are licensed to protect people not to foster priestly reputations. Yes we need to be honest but no we don’t need to be slandered with what bad things our clients or a few bad lawyers choose to do. There is rampant corruption in government, with those who do business with our government, in business and running Wall Street.
I recently wrote a letter to the editor in response to an editorial criticizing lawyers for doing estate planning for an accused and then convicted murdered. The main message of my letter was stop expecting us to be priests, we aren't. Here is the link and the letter follows.
The editorial is “What role did lawyers play in the ‘shell game’?” and it suggests an unreasonable ethical standard that would result in no lawyer being able to perform estate work for Iowa’s farmers.
Interesting enough the editorial writer, Gil Cranberg, a very respected writer, wrote to me after receiving my letter to him and asked me to send it to the main editor for publishing in the paper. I suspect he learned something from what I said directly to him; and there is a message in there to all lawyers. Get active in what you do and say to those who criticize the entire profession. A few bad apples don’t make us all bad. Perhaps what I’m saying isn’t popular but I don’t care. As a lawyer my job isn’t a popularity contest. I’m not Sarah Palin in a pair of pants. I’m a lawyer; a trial lawyer. And I’m not her to apologize for being what you want me to be when you’re the one sitting in my office.
We lawyers and judges have to take all of this on without apology. We are lawyers not priests - we dispense legal advice not morality. We are capitalists not communists or socialists - like everyone else we are in this to make money, a profit and can't afford, due to tort reform, to offer free services like we could in the past. When the general public and the Court are bought into tort reform they shot themselves in the foot. I make no apologies because you did it to yourselves. The public's expectations for us are unrealistically naive. They want us there for them when they need us but not to be there for the next guy. They want us to play nicey-nice but then when they are in trouble they want us to take the other guy's head off.
Do you want tough lawyers who know how to play the game against unscrupulous Wall Street thugs who are stealing your retirement savings or do you want us to be kindergarten teachers dispensing morality? Would you rather we slap Madoff on the wrist with a warning about how wrong stealing is or do you want lawyers who know how to find and can afford to find the money you say was stolen by his investment company? Frankly, you need to make up your mind because when you’re the client the lawyer is likely to say to you, “Sorry, love to help you out with your problem, but I can’t afford to do battle with this well-heeled insurance conglomerate. Best of luck to you.”
Do you want us to have a war chest to be able to finance litigation against the big thugs on Wall Street, the insurance industry, manufacturers, Big Pharma and to offer free legal services to the poor and the working class poor – the middle class or do you want us to keep turning you away till finally Wall Street and corporate American can have it's way with you without any resistance from the lawyers? Make up your minds because as a trial lawyer I’m sick of hearing about tort reform and what it’s supposed to mean to our economy. None of the promises have been realized and none will.