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Explaining the Unpopularity of Lawyers:
A recent Gallup poll on public opinion towards various professions has the legal field once again near the bottom: Only 25% of people polled had a positive view of lawyers. I thought I would blog a bit on some of the reasons why, and whether those reasons are justified.

  I'm no expert on this question, but my sense is that the low public regard for lawyers has some origins that are justified and others that are less so. On one hand, I think lawyers are properly criticized for how they often use their power to protect the guild. Get a group of lawyers together and have them craft some new laws, and the chances are pretty good that the new laws will be favorable to lawyers. Given how much power lawyers can exercise, I think it's often fair for non-lawyers to look askance at the legal profession for this reason.

  On the other hand, I suspect that the low public regard for lawyers is partly explained by isolation effects that result when lawyers take on advocacy roles in controversial disputes. Lawyers represent clients. And if you have a high-profile dispute with popular and unpopular sides, people are likely to remember the person who took the unpopular side. That person will often be a lawyer for the unpopular side, fostering a very negative impression of lawyers.

  Think about a legal dispute in which you identify really strongly with one side -- perhaps a criminal case in which the crime is heinous and evidence of guilt is overwhelming. Imagine you turn on your TV and you see a show about the case, and the lawyer for the other side is on the show. You're likely to think that lawyer is a shyster: He keeps ignoring the evidence, changing the subject, and saying all these implausible things to try to help a very evil client. The sheer audacity of the lawyer representing the defendant slimeball with a straight face can leave a bad taste in your mouth -- a bad taste about lawyers.

  Sure, the good guys have a lawyer, too. And you'll agree 100% with what that their lawyer says. But you won't remember that as much as you will the lawyer who took the side you find so offensive. I'm no expert in the question, but I suspect that this sort of reaction helps explain part of the low public regard for lawyers.
Cornellian (mail):
I think people hold the legal profession in low regard because they perceive (more or less accurately) that it's the lawyer's job to advance the client's position, whether or not the lawyer agrees with it. They layperson perceives that role as unprincipled.

Of course, if you ask that layperson what he'd want if he were in legal trouble - a lawyer who advanced the client's best interests or a lawyer who acted more like a judge of his client's case, it's not hard to guess which one the layperson would pick.
8.25.2009 12:20am
Psalm91 (mail):
This is not surprising. There have been well funded corporate campaigns to demonize lawyers who sue on behalf of injured plaintiffs ("trial lawyers") while disregarding the insurance or corporate defense lawyers. Civil rights and civil liberties lawyers are regularly attacked in conservative circles. There re few favorable role models in the media or popular culture.
8.25.2009 12:23am
OrinKerr:
Civil rights and civil liberties lawyers are regularly attacked in conservative circles.

And the Bush Administration's lawyers weren't exactly popular in liberal circles, either.
8.25.2009 12:29am
Texas Lawyer:
When people personally encounter the legal system, there is always a lawyer against them. I think doctors would be less popular if, when people got sick, there was a doctor on the other side trying to kill them.
8.25.2009 12:32am
Jmaie (mail):
When Granny spills coffee in her lap and sues McDonald's, her lawyer is viewed negatively by the general public. Correct or not, the perception is that this type of action is driven by the lawyer's greed rather than a plaintiff seeking just compensation.
8.25.2009 12:33am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
While I have a positive view of the legal profession as a whole, I tend to find a lot of advertisements for legal services to be questionable at best. In particular, I take a very dim view of ambulance chasing such as we see with adds like "If you have been injured in a car accident, you may be entitled to money..... Get the money you deserve, call the law offices of.... today."

The other thing is that there are certainly some areas of law where adversarial approaches often create more problems than they solve-- divorce law is a good example (adversarial approaches should be a last resort in many cases). I think the legal profession often suffers from hammer syndrome (where everything looks like a nail).

I have also met a few lawyers who I see as intellectually dishonest. However, this extends to all professions, so isn't something one holds against lawyers per se.

However these concerns aside, lawyers as a whole have an extremely important role in our society and one that most people dont appreciate. Every one of our civil liberties, whether freedom of speech or gun ownership is guarded in part by dedicated lawyers who often selflessly pursue goals they see as fundamentally important for safeguaring our civil rights.
8.25.2009 12:33am
PeteRR (mail):
Just as a man with a hammer sees all problems as nails needing to be whacked back into position, lawyers think all of society's problems are just one good lawsuit/regulation/indictment away from being solved.
8.25.2009 12:37am
yankee (mail):
The media's inaccurate portrayals of lawyers no doubt also play into this. TV lawyers and real lawyers are worlds apart, but the average person has vastly more exposure to TV lawyers than to real ones.
8.25.2009 12:49am
Paul Allen:
People do not like being under other people's thumbs. For better or worse, lawyers are the epitome of 'the force of law'. This applies even to your own lawyer. For instance, we have lawyers come in to advise the staff on sexual harassment, employment law, etc. The general view of these events isn't gee, I'm glad I learned that; its a realization that society carries a big club and has gone too far.

This reaches a particular head when the reality of the law confronts the public perception that supported it. People are caught surprised by what the law actually says rather than the rhetoric. They support the latter but not the former. Lawyers bear the brunt of disapproval that follows.
8.25.2009 12:53am
Mike McDougal:
According to that poll, the only thing people seem to like is food and the internet.
8.25.2009 12:58am
PeteP:
Here's some reasons, Orin, from a non-lawyer

Mike Nifong. Need I say more ?

It is a fact that in our system, a defense lawyer who KNOWS his client murdered those five people will use ANY trick, ANY tactic, ( within the law, usually at least ) to get that person set free to do it again.

Prosecutors, on the other side of the coin, will do the same for a conviction, or a plea bargain - anything to keep their 'scorecard' going. No lawyer on either side is the tiniest bit interested in TRUTH or JUSTICE.

The Judge, another lawyer, also doesn't give a rat's ass about truth or justice - only 'the law', that ensconced nirvana of our system.

So, in the typical case, in fact mainly ALL cases, there are three lawyerly positions in the room ( D, P, and Judge ), NONE of whom are interested in TRUTH or JUSTICE.

The Average Joe can count on NEVER having a lawyer on his side, because he simply can't afford it. Rarely will a lawyer take a case unless there's money or fame in it for him.

Class action suits where the lawyers agree to a 'settlement' that they wrote themselves, that gives them $ 12,000,000 while eveyone else gets a $ 5 discount coupon on their next purchase.

Then some ( John Edwards, for example ) get all sanctimonious about it ( while they take their millions to the bank, much more than their clients ever see ), and expect to be called 'holy men'.

Get it ?
8.25.2009 1:00am
Mike McDougal:
I think there's a sense of entitlement that almost inevitably works against lawyers. People feel they're naturally entitled to justice as they see it. Opposing lawyers are trying to take what they feel is rightly theirs, and their own lawyer is billing them for what they feel is rightly theirs.
8.25.2009 1:02am
OrinKerr:
Get it ?

Given that your comment largely restates the argument of my post, yes, I think I get it.
8.25.2009 1:04am
John Moore (www):
The legal profession has allowed the law to be terribly abused, and I think that's at the root of a lot of it. Even if most lawyers aren't engaged in questionable practices, they don't seem to do much to stop them.

A relative of mine was recently sued after a fender-bender. The plaintiff claimed all sorts of damages, none of which could be proven at all, and many of her claims were outright lies (as was clearly shown). None the less, because of her persistence and the willingness of a lawyer to abet her rent seeking, the insurance company settled for $20,000 rather than pay the cost of a trial they were sure to win. Specifically, they got her to agree to binding arbitration, if the minimum she could get was 20,000. The arbitrator immediately ruled that her case was meritless, and she got the 20 grand.

When you know a few people that this has happened to, and you don't see the lawyers out campaigning to put a stop to this, how can you hold the profession in very high regard?

Furthermore, the lawyers have sought and obtained in the US a system where the loser does not usually have to pay. This enables all sorts of frivolous and costly actions where the only cost to the lawyer is his time - and some lawyers are willing to gamble a bunch of their time on this stuff until they hit pay dirt.

The legal profession, in my eyes, has one thing going for it: they are more honest than journalists, and far more competent.
8.25.2009 1:05am
Mike McDougal:

Rarely will a lawyer take a case unless there's money or fame in it for him.

At least there's a payment option. My dentist, doctor, mechanic, grocer, tailor, landscaper, and barber will only do work for money.
8.25.2009 1:06am
Rock On:
I'd agree with those who say that personal injury lawyers have a huge amount to do with public perception. Everybody likes Law and Order, and half of every episode of that show is about lawyers (realism issues aside, as most viewers don't know that). But no one is a fan of these massive lawsuits over minutiae.
8.25.2009 1:10am
Mike McDougal:

the lawyers have sought and obtained in the US a system where the loser does not usually have to pay.

I think you might be underestimating the proportion of cases in which there's an attorneys' fee provision. It's very common for contracts to contain mandatory fee provisions. And it's also very common for states to have either permissive or mandatory fee award statutes for disputes arising out of contracts. Given that a very large portion of civil litigation is contract based (and based on contracts drafted or negotiated at some point by lawyers), I don't think its accurate to suggest that lawyers, in some general sense, work against fee awards.
8.25.2009 1:18am
josil (mail):
The two least efficient types of organizations in our society are the judicial and the educational. They both desperately need reengineering. It is not likely to come from within because there are great advantages to inefficiency...for the incumbents.
8.25.2009 1:23am
Libertarian1 (mail):
I can't speak for the general public but here is my own personal view. In my field I see lawyers like John Edwards make millions of dollars convincing lay juries of something that only was not true but what he must have known was not true. His thesis was not having a C-section caused Cerebral Palsy. It changed the entire practice of medicine and has harmed tens of thousands of women. They now get an unnecessary C-section to forestall a lawsuit and the incidence of CP is unchanged, just as was predicted by medical experts. But he got his money by putting a poor stricken child on view in front of sympathetic juries. Where is there an legal ethics committee to chastise him?

I saw an effective anti-nausea medication driven from the market by equally unscrupulous greedy lawyers who similarly put a poor child with a birth defect in front of a jury. They made millions but the most effective anti-nausea drug was pulled from the market. Once again no change in defect incidence after drug withdrawal as predicted.
8.25.2009 1:24am
Mike McDougal:
josil, what specific legal "reengineering" would you like to see?
8.25.2009 1:26am
Brian K (mail):
A few thoughts from a nonlawyer on why people don't like lawyers:

1) people don't like what is seen as unfairness in class action lawsuits. the class as whole usually gets a small amount of money in the form of a coupon while the lawyers walk away with millions.

2) the crusade from the right to demonize lawyers.

3) our adversarial system of law. in any given legal suit, someone is bound to win. the losing side remembers how crappy their lawyer was and the winning side remembers that the opposing lawyer did his best to deny them what they want.

---------
While I have a positive view of the legal profession as a whole, I tend to find a lot of advertisements for legal services to be questionable at best. In particular, I take a very dim view of ambulance chasing such as we see with adds like "If you have been injured in a car accident, you may be entitled to money..... Get the money you deserve, call the law offices of.... today."

this doesn't help much either. when i rearended someone (as a result from some incredibly stupid driving on the other person's part), i was sued. the lawsuit was filed the day after the accident, before my insurance company was even able to contact the other driver. my first thought was what kind of a greedy bitch was the other driver...but my second thought was kind of idiot lawyer would even take a case like this.
8.25.2009 1:35am
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
I agree with Cornellian. However necessary the role of lawyer as zealous defender of his or her client may be--and, for better or worse, America's adversarial legal system requires it--the role is also fundamentally dishonest and disreputable, in that it requires lawyers to assert with great vigor and eloquence things that they likely don't really believe, and in some cases that no decent person would ever say outside of the lawyer's artificial role. Someone willing to do and say such things in a professional capacity--indeed, willing to expend great effort to win the opportunity to do and say such things for a living--might naturally be suspected of being less inhibited than others about behaving the same way outside of a professional setting.

There are quite a few jobs like this: PR flack, politician, advertising copywriter, salesperson. All of these require similar dishonesty, and suffer from similarly negative public reputations. (Likewise, in a somewhat different way, with the professions of executioner, bouncer, boxer or even dentist.) In a world where vocations are largely a matter of choice, those who choose to do what most people would find at least somewhat morally discomfiting, run the obvious risk of seeming to be relatively insensitive to moral discomfiture.
8.25.2009 1:35am
rarango (mail):
Seems to me there are good and bad representatives in any profession and to characterize all lawyers as bad is simply poor thinking. and as Orin and others have pointed out, the legal system itself which as I understand it is adversarial necessarily categorizes lawyers. To me, a lawyer is like a pick up truck or a .45--you don't often need one, but when you need one you need one bad.

If I may take the liberty of riffing on Josil's point: the common law jury system is the adversarial system that forces lawyers into adversarial positions. That said, I don't have a better system to replace it. There are layers of review that I suspect in the long run work to mitigate the effect of lousy jury decisions. So the alternative to a jury system is probably Plato's guardians. And that seems to me to be even worse
8.25.2009 1:38am
TGGP (mail) (www):
I gave my reasons here. They are verbally gifted, and that makes them untrustworthy. The average person likely views them alternatingly as sophists undermining law that is and ought to be clear, or as pedants adhering to legal technicalities regardless of the practical consequences (as with Scalia on actual innocence). Between the two, I prefer the latter type of lawyer (I think that's what A Man For All Seasons pays tribute to), which is why I called John Hasnas' Myth of the Rule of Law mad, bad and dangerous to know.
8.25.2009 1:41am
Lior:
Mike McDougal: three modifications will help, I think:

1. Make lawyers liable for damages like all other professionals. A doctor who operates on the wrong patient by mistake is liable for millions. A prosecutor who indicts someone who is most likely innocent enjoys prosecutorial immunity. A judge who makes a manifest error of law despite having all the time of the world to think about it is somehow not liable to the aggrieved party, while a doctor who makes an error in medical judgement in a life-or-death situation can be sued.

As long as lawyers insist that their misconduct is best addressed by their own guild, while everyone else's misconduct is best addressed by a trial conducted by lawyers, I don't think lawyers can expect any respect.

2. Eliminate the jury from the courtroom. This will require lawyers to actually prove their cases, and also have other beneficial side-effects (such as requiring the trier-of-fact to provide a written explanation of its ruling).

3. Reduce society's litigiousness, lowering the friction between people and the law. The first step forward is a stronger understanding of "assumption of risk" and "personal responsibility". It should be understood that medical treatments do not always work; that climbing rocks in a state park is dangerous; that hot coffee is, well, hot.

Bonus option: eliminate the licensing requirements for lawyers.
8.25.2009 1:48am
Leo Marvin (mail):
Orin:

And the Bush Administration's lawyers weren't exactly popular in liberal circles, either.

Certainly true, but I don't think their status as lawyers was held against them, just the belief they were bad, dishonest lawyers. Liberal calls for Woo, Bybee and Libby to be fired, indicted, impeached and/or disbarred suggests to me their lawyering was seen as aberrational. On the other hand, partly for the reasons you mentioned, partly because they support Democrats financially, the very term "trial lawyer" is a popular epithet with the Limbaugh crowd, and one that rubs off on the legal profession as a whole. JAG lawyers have also taken a lot of heat from certain quarters on the Right. And let's not forget the far Right's favorite black-robed bogeymen, also lawyers. If there's a category of lawyers some left-wing faction loves to hate, it doesn't pop to mind, so help me out if I'm forgetting.

FWIW, my sense is that the popular demonization of lawyers didn't start out as a partisan issue, but began with media reports of a few outrageous plaintiffs and ambulance chasers. In think the partisan Right exploited this after the fact, recognizing they could use it to punish one of their main opponents, the trial lawyers, and help one of their main allies, the Chamber of Commerce.
8.25.2009 1:57am
GV:
The public's perception of lawyers is mostly based on ignorance. Most people don't know what a lawyer is or does or how many jobs fall under the umbrella of being a lawyer. Even in this thread, presumably populated by people with some familiarity with lawyers, some have equated being a lawyer with being a plaintiff's trial lawyer or being a criminal lawyer. Lots of litigators don't do either of those jobs. And lots of lawyers aren't litigators. (And of course, lots of criminal lawyers and plaintiff's trial lawyers have done great things, by anyone's standards.)

All that being said, I think Orin has it right. It's the same phenomenon (although obviously much more insidious) we sometimes see with racism. Someone has a bad experience with a black person or a white person or whatever. And rather than chalk it up to one bad experience (or two), they will make a stereotype in their head about all black people, all white people, etc. They tend to forget the good interactions or write them off as the exception that proves the rule.

Lots of lawyers do very noble things. Lots of them don't. Sort of like people of every profession.
8.25.2009 2:03am
OrinKerr:
Leo,

I think the comparisons between left and right are a little tricky, as it depends on how you define the groups. You seem to believe there are monolithic and clearly defined groups on the right that have pretty specific views -- you refer to "the Limbaugh crowd," "the far right," "the partisan right" , etc. -- but I'm not sure what parallel groups you would see on the left side: DailyKos nuts? Limousine liberal elites? ACS law professors? Without knowing what groups you see on the left as analogous, it's hard to get to the question of which groups of lawyers are similarly distrusted or reviled in those groups.

More broadly, I'm not suggesting that there is exact equivalence -- just that the demonization can be somewhat in the eyes of the beholder.
8.25.2009 2:10am
Lior:
As far as I can tell (not being a lawyer), nearly all of lawyering is practical advising of clients and representation in negotiations. It's not very exciting and does not directly relate to great matters of public policy.

The public's perception of lawyers, however, is not driven by what most lawyers actually do, just like the public perception of mathematicians isn't driven by what mathematicians do. Whether you distrust the police or not is usually not dependent on the duties or performance of the average police officer.
8.25.2009 2:11am
JKB:
I think it is because they are always arguing. People just don't like those who are always so argumentative.

Actually, I have two observations based on my experience with agency general counsels.

First was when I suggested to my boss that we get the lawyers involved in developing a contract requirements document that seemed simple but had some potential issues. I was told, "No, they won't let us do anything." You have to admit that lawyers won't let you do a lot of dumb stuff such as using imprecise language that causes the contract award to be contested by losing parties. I unfortunately wasn't part of drafting the requirements but was forced to be part of the interminable selection process.

Second, was just before leaving when I needed an opinion on a potential large liability affecting a current and future contracts. I knew the answer as even I could understand the case law but couldn't get an opinion from the general counsel's office. I came to believe the only way I'd get an answer was to beat it out of them but they'd had a hand in the crafting the workplace violence policy, so policy prevented me from beating it out of them. In their defense, it was in an area of law not normally dealt with by the agency thus why they played hot potato with it but as I said, simple to research. Oh well, they'll bone up on it when some other lawyer sues them over issue. Oddly enough, it is a personal injury issue.
8.25.2009 2:17am
Avatar (mail):
Most people don't have a lot of contact with lawyers.

When Dad goes to the doctor, they don't get right down to business, even though both of them know quite well that Doc's time is valuable and in short supply. They'll sit for a couple of minutes and shoot the breeze about the weather, about how old friends are doing, whose son just graduated or daughter just got married. Eventually they'll get around to whatever ailment has Dad at the doctor this time. They'll do this even if it's obvious ("So, ah, I see you've gone and broke your leg this time.")

Dad has a family doctor. He's got a barber he's been going to for twenty years. He's on good terms with his auto mechanic, his lawn crew, and half the Whataburger employees in the greater Houston area.

But he doesn't have a family lawyer. And it's not just because he doesn't need a lawyer that often; it's not like his plumbing breaks every few months, right? And he's got a lot of forms and contracts and the like that come in, and honestly he doesn't parse legal writing well. He certainly could use a family lawyer, the kind of guy who he could show a 401(k) disbursement option form or a copy of his deed restrictions of what have you, get half an hour of his time, probably only ten minutes of which the lawyer would need to say "yup, everything's in order, just fill out this form and mail it in, and remind me to the missus."

But it's hard to find a street-level lawyer like that, these days. When does Dad have to deal with lawyers, then? Well, usually when someone's trying to push him around. Some business he's never dealt with claims he owes them money, or the neighborhood association tries to hassle him over a deed restriction that doesn't even exist. And then he's got to go find a lawyer, and find someone who doesn't want to talk to him because there's no way his case will generate a big fee, and pay a hundred bucks an hour to be told that the other guy's lawyer is full of crap and just trying to push Dad around. So every time something comes up, and thank goodness it's not frequent, Dad has two unhappy experiences - one with the jerk lawyer who's hassling him, and one with his lawyer, who just wants Dad and his this-will-never-be-a-case to go away.

Doesn't take many instances of that to make a man a mite cynical regarding the whole profession.

I'd say that the problem isn't so much "lawyers will work for anybody and advance ridiculous claims" - though there's some of that too. But there's an awful lot of lawyers, and we're not talking good lawyers here, but lawyers who will throw around the law because they don't have to pay for representation but their victims do. Remember the lawyer from a couple of weeks ago, who was extorting barbers for sex discrimination lawsuits because they charge different prices for men and women? It doesn't take many of that guy to give ALL lawyers a really bad name.
8.25.2009 2:24am
David Schwartz (mail):
Dan Simon: It is not dishonest unless the people you are speaking to don't know what you're doing -- and they always do. It's no more dishonest than being an actor.

Everyone knows that everything a lawyer says, while in his professional capacity, is prefaced by an implicit, "it is my client's position that ...".
8.25.2009 2:24am
The Sitzpinkler:
Bonus option: eliminate the licensing requirements for lawyers.

I think you will find that more ambulance chasers will not suit your goals.
8.25.2009 2:33am
Displaced Midwesterner:

Make lawyers liable for damages like all other professionals. A doctor who operates on the wrong patient by mistake is liable for millions. A prosecutor who indicts someone who is most likely innocent enjoys prosecutorial immunity. A judge who makes a manifest error of law despite having all the time of the world to think about it is somehow not liable to the aggrieved party, while a doctor who makes an error in medical judgement in a life-or-death situation can be sued.

The vast majority of lawyers are liable for their errors like all other professionals. Most lawyers are neither prosecutors nor judges. And the actual occurrence of prosecutors indicting innocent people is exteremely low compared with the number of disgruntled guilty people who would file frivolous suits (plenty already do anyway despite immunity). As for judges, that's what appeal is for. And at the trial level, judges generally don't have infinite time, but rather crowded dockets.

As long as lawyers insist that their misconduct is best addressed by their own guild, while everyone else's misconduct is best addressed by a trial conducted by lawyers, I don't think lawyers can expect any respect.


2. Eliminate the jury from the courtroom. This will require lawyers to actually prove their cases, and also have other beneficial side-effects (such as requiring the trier-of-fact to provide a written explanation of its ruling).


Funny how complaints about the legal system often come back to those average people on the jury, as other comments here indicate. In a poll, people complain about ridiculous lawsuits, but put them in a box and they go haywire and reward those bringing ridiculous lawsuits.


3. Reduce society's litigiousness, lowering the friction between people and the law. The first step forward is a stronger understanding of "assumption of risk" and "personal responsibility". It should be understood that medical treatments do not always work; that climbing rocks in a state park is dangerous; that hot coffee is, well, hot.


True. And if most of those scenarios end up in a courtroom, they will often quickly be tossed out. It's the bad apples that get noticed.

As OK's post indicates and other have commented, despite being professional advocates, lawyers are poor advocates for themselves. They have an image problem. And that explains most of the negative reaction (though the reaction might be warranted on other grounds - there seems to be a disproportionate number of unpleasant people who have entered the legal world). But hey, at least we are more well liked than realtors, used car salesmen, and oil profiteers!

I wonder though about OK's thought that some of the attorney antagonism comes from lawyers protecting the guild. While lawyers are certainly good about protecting their racket, how much of this is actually something that filters into the public perception of lawyers?



8.25.2009 2:35am
Obvious (mail):
The unpopularity of lawyers is something that requires explanation??
8.25.2009 2:46am
Mark N. (www):
One additional factor, I think, is a view of lawyers as essentially hyper-bureaucrats, authors of incomprehensible legalese and pages of forms to sign. When you run across an unreadable 15-page agreement with your bank, or some gigantic "terms of service" that purport to dictate legal terms for reading a website, or an employment contract that gives you the sneaking suspicion that buried in it is someone attempting to rip you off, people tend to blame that all on the legal profession.
8.25.2009 2:46am
J. Aldridge:
Justices getting a free pass here? They are the ones who allow lawyers to act the way they do.
8.25.2009 2:54am
norm (mail):
I was once excused from being on the jury of a capital murder case, apparently because I have such a low opinion of lawyers. Nevertheless I agree that modern society depends critically on the rule of law which is the creation of and province of lawyers. Thus they are essential to our way of life.

Why such a low opinion? Two reasons. First, they steal my constitution and laws from me. I appreciate that ambiguities, changes through time and the need to keep the law fairly consistent require extensive interpretation of the constitution or law. However decisions should seem, at the minimum, plausible to an ordinary citizen in light of the original text. Decisions which are not plausible are the prohibition of the noncommercial use of marijuana grown and used within one state and the prohibition of the harvest of a crop for use on that farm, both based on the right to regulate interstate commerce; that's nuts. These are not interstate transactions nor are they commerce. Another example: I first read Roe vs. Wade and Griswold because I could not believe someone who claimed that our courts actually used emanations and penumbras to create a right to privacy affecting sexual matters. Crazy. I'm happy to let lawyers tweak laws while arguing about original meaning, counter-majoritarian stuff and social justice, as long as when I swear to uphold the constitution of the United States (which I have done four times) I have some idea what I am agreeing to. Also I want to know what we should teach our kids in school about the meaning of the law. When the meaning is clearly is the result of the judges doing whatever they want or believe would be good it destroys understanding and thus legitimacy. (Please note that currently in the United States the judges who do this are taking power from me and my representatives, not, as historically was true, when judges made stuff up, from the king of England.)

The first reason is not common, mostly a few outrageous distortions. The second reason is very common. Our lawyers have created a system with a bad balance between enough procedure to get approximately just results and so much procedure that lawyers can harass and extort victims for for the purposes of their clients or their fees. My career involved managing people and dealing with ambiguous, difficult issues. Yet the majority of times when there was a threat to sue or an actual suit (not usually carried through to a trial) there was no legitimate issue in my opinion. Only once were fees awarded to the harassed side (we never collected). Many of these situations arose through the extension of liability to deep pockets in the past fifty years. Others arose because someone wants to change our law and cannot succeed through elections. A few arose because of lawyers later convicted of some crime.
8.25.2009 3:05am
Obvious (mail):
More seriously, I think many commenters have a part of the truth. Here's another one that hasn't been mentioned yet.

People are not happy with politicians. They are not happy with Congress. Many people think that a large number of lawyers are in Congress. And they're right--I think the plurality of Congressmen ARE lawyers. This alone might make people upset with lawyers.

If they also feel that lawyers in Congress pass hugely complex legislation they don't even read that has the result of making more business for lawyers, you can see how that would be upsetting...
8.25.2009 3:09am
Brubaker:
Nobody mentioned the first reason that came to mind for me.

There are almost no doctors, engineers, architects, etc. who are desperate to make ends meet. Obtaining one's terminal degree or license in these and many other professional fields corresponds strongly with a career path in which one does not have to compromise ideals for the sake of money or career advancement.

Yet there are so many lawyers who come out of law school saddled with 6-figure debt and weaker than anticipated career prospects. They reorganize their ethical closet, and shelve their ideals alongside baseball cards and other childish things.

Similar logic applies to any other professional group that consists of a large proportion of desperate people. Chiropractors, real estate agents, etc.

Of course a great many lawyers -- perhaps the bulk of the readership here -- went to schools and had grades that afforded them the luxury of not only maintaining but even expanding that collection of baseball cards.

So many of you are explicating reasons why the public has the impression that most lawyers don't own that '52 Mickey Mantle while ignoring the economics of it.
8.25.2009 3:51am
tvk:
Most everyone here seems to be repeating Orin's post. Some people say that trial lawyers are the problem, as if corporate and insurance defense lawyers have their praises sung all the time. Others blame conservative demonizing of civil liberties lawyers, as if Bush admin lawyers are being given keys to cities. It seems easier to demonize than to praise.

But if this is so, then why are judges so insulated from this almost universal scorn? Judges inevitably take sides in a case; and besides which all of them are former lawyers. Yet we hear that the public trusts judges more than just about any other type of official in public life.
8.25.2009 4:00am
Leo Marvin (mail):
Orin,

I used "far right," "partisan right" and "Limbaugh crowd" interchangeably, and only to say I attribute those views to a narrow, relatively extreme faction of the right wing, not that I can identify the faction specifically. In retrospect, "Limbaugh crowd" was a bad choice. The other two, I think, make the point generically enough, which isn't to say I think "partisan" and "far" mean the same thing. Anyway, I'm open to better suggestions.

I agree demonization is in the eyes of the beholder. Sometimes there's a partisan aspect to it, sometimes not. As I said, to my eyes, demonization of lawyers has a distinctly right wing cast to it. Do you think it's fairly non-partisan or equally partisan? I respect your ability to correct for your biases, so if you see it that differently, I'd want to take a closer look at where I may have gone wrong.

FWIW, I think "DailyKos nuts" would be about as vivid and inaccurate as "Limbaugh crowd." In other words, I'd get the point plus too much more. I suspect "Limousine liberals'" best days are behind it, and "ACS law professors'" ahead, if ever. "Elites" is a keeper. Just don't count on who gets to keep it. :)
8.25.2009 4:14am
whit:

This is not surprising. There have been well funded corporate campaigns to demonize lawyers who sue on behalf of injured plaintiffs ("trial lawyers") while disregarding the insurance or corporate defense lawyers. Civil rights and civil liberties lawyers are regularly attacked in conservative circles. There re few favorable role models in the media or popular culture.


oh please. spare me the "it's the evul corporations" argument combined with a healthy dose of "right wing conspiracy"

this disdain for lawyers is nothing new. for pete's sake, do i have to quote shakespeare for you?
8.25.2009 4:18am
FC:
tvk: It's all about the robes.
8.25.2009 4:18am
whit:

Whether you distrust the police or not is usually not dependent on the duties or performance of the average police officer.


this may be true, but just for the record, similar polls routinely show police officers amongst the most respected and admired of various professions. iow, at the opposite end of the spectrum from lawyers. nurses and teachers are also near the top.

shows like COPS etc. have helped give the public a more accurate view of what we do, but the best way is to simply do a ride-a-long or two with your local PD. i have mentioned this many times. as far as i know, there is no "ride a long" program for corporate lawyers, etc.
8.25.2009 4:22am
Perseus (mail):
But if this is so, then why are judges so insulated from this almost universal scorn? Judges inevitably take sides in a case; and besides which all of them are former lawyers. Yet we hear that the public trusts judges more than just about any other type of official in public life.

The judge as umpire "myth".
8.25.2009 6:06am
PersonFromPorlock:
The suspicion for many of us non-lawyers is that lawyers' primary concern is to make as much money as they can, and inflate their own importance as much as they can, by needlessly complicating the world to the point where we must hire them. The piousness with which this is done is an additional irritant.

Lawyers are necessary, but not as necessary as they've rigged the game to make themselves.
8.25.2009 7:06am
Angus:
In part, it's a combination of 3 factors, two of which I think are fair, one unfair. 1) They help write laws no one can understand without them, 2) They charge tons of money to help people who run afoul of those laws, and 3) They appear to the average person to switch sides based on which side can pay the most (the unfair one).
8.25.2009 7:07am
Brett Bellmore:
Billing practices. I'm mad at my ex's lawyer, who took advantage of my depression to ream me in court, (After we'd already hammered out an equitable settlement!) but I'm LIVID about "my" lawyer, who finished the job with billing practices which escape being legally fraudulent only because lawyers are protecting lawyers.

I mean, really, if a lawyer's car mechanic charged him the way he charges his clients, the mechanic would be in prison.

And, of course, it's the perception that lawyers have crafted the law to see to it that they benefit, with any benefit to society at large being incidental.

Might improve things if lawyers got sanctioned more often by judges for bringing frivolous suits, and billing fraud, but they don't. Because judges are lawyers, too.
8.25.2009 7:15am
Bob May (mail) (www):
Orin - you wrote:

"Given how much power lawyers can exercise"

In private practice, I feel just the opposite. We are merely agents and subject to many forces that dictate we act pursuant to the direction of our principals, as well as within a strict and unforgiving set of rules and standards.

I think you should write an article explaining this phrase, and giving it some thought.

Good job on this very interesting subject.
8.25.2009 7:23am
resh (mail):
Lawyers are unpopular because, like several rodents, there are too damn many of them, they exude a distinct social malodor, and their common habit is to eat anything with blood on it.
8.25.2009 7:47am
Brett Bellmore:

In private practice, I feel just the opposite. We are merely agents and subject to many forces that dictate we act pursuant to the direction of our principals, as well as within a strict and unforgiving set of rules and standards.


Which somehow don't preclude charging a half hour's time of the boss for every page of a boilerplate form he has his secretary photocopy. Or involve ACTUALLY being sanctioned when you bring a meritless lawsuit.
8.25.2009 7:48am
Wallace:
Want to know why lawyers are unpopular? Ask any non-lawyer who works in a law firm. I've never seen subordinates treated so shabbily.
8.25.2009 7:57am
sk (mail):
I don't want to quote Shakespeare again in this post to point out: this disdain has been going on for a long time. It applied before the Bush administration (believe it or not!), it applied before the ACLU, it applied before John Edwards.

My suspicion is that people don't like lawyers because lawyers are the direct contact people have with the LAW-i.e. lawyers are those who tell us what to do, or tell us what we can and can't do. I realize that is not entirely true: judges do it as well (and people don't dislike judges). But lawyers are our first contact. Lawyers, by definition, cannot be giving us good news. If I need a lawyer, or if I am contacted by a lawyer, that lawyer is in the business of telling me what to do-even if he is right, and even if I would choose to do it anyway. Interacting with a lawyer (i.e. interacting with the LAW) is like getting caught in a net: all you want to do is get free without drowning (without losing alot of money, or alot of stuff, or alot of freedoms, or going to jail).

Nobody likes inspectors, or inspectors general, or internal affairs either (if you own a business, and a city/state/government inspector comes through the door, the best outcome you can get is 'not worse than before he came'). But they have limited power-they can tell you to clean the kitchen, or add a handicapped ramp to your bathroom, or whatever. Lawyers can theoretically do anything: take your money away, take your freedom away, take your car, takes your kids, anything.

The absolute best you can hope for from a lawyer is no change from the status quo. Given that they charge money for their services, the best you can realistically hope for is no change except for the money you have given them-so you hope they don't take alot of your money.

Sk
8.25.2009 8:07am
krs:
I generally agree with the post, but I think the second point doesn't quite go far enough.

Not only do lawyers take on unpopular clients, but they say or do anything in service of those clients. In a criminal case, I understand that the facts aren't always what they seem to be on TV and that even the bad guys need lawyers too, but this latter part isn't necessarily true in civil cases. Lawyers bring frivolous lawsuits all of the time, like the Roy Pearson pants suit. Trial lawyers make sure to include "color points" in their presentations to the jury--stuff that has nothing to do with matching the facts to the law, but will likely sway laypeople nonetheless.

And then of course there's American civil discovery, where lawyers take advantage of the lawyer-created rules to which you refer above, and then send countless letters back and forth with a feigned tone of shock that the other side had the temerity send 20 boxes of documents in two separate shipments without making that fact clear in a cover letter.

And then there are the instances of lawyers getting convicted of crimes and caught up in scandals.

The longer one spends around certain types of lawyers, the more it seems that they're largely insincere whores and hired guns. The system that they've created largely encourages this, and in some contexts either (a) due process requires that people get insincere whores and hired guns working on their cases, or (b) the insincere whores and hired guns aren't as bad as they appear...

...but generally the rottenness of much of the legal profession runs a bit deeper than just rent-seeking and unpopular clients, I think.

I suspect that the 25% of people who like lawyers are either lawyers themeselves or they have no actual experience with lawyers and think lawyers are all a bunch of Atticus Finches fighting for justice and principle.
8.25.2009 8:13am
Widmerpool:
Hmmm, only 25% of people polled have a positive view of lawyers. Is there another profession that has similarly low numbers? Ah, yes, purely a coincidence, I'm sure, but politicians, too, have almost the same ratings. Let's do some venn diagrams now: this one is of lawyers and this is of politicians. That's odd, there seems to be quite a bit of overlap. . . . Now don't try this at home, remember that correlation does not mean causality. Nothing to see here, move along, break it up, go back to talking about the adversarial system.
8.25.2009 8:27am
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb :

as far as i know, there is no "ride a long" program for corporate lawyers, etc.

Be grateful for this fact.

Come to think of it, I'm reviewing a few hundred old e-mails today, and you are more than welcome to ride along. You may want to bring your favorite form of caffeine.
8.25.2009 8:32am
John Thacker (mail):
I think people hold the legal profession in low regard because they perceive (more or less accurately) that it's the lawyer's job to advance the client's position, whether or not the lawyer agrees with it.

...
We are merely agents and subject to many forces that dictate we act pursuant to the direction of our principals, as well as within a strict and unforgiving set of rules and standards.


While these play some role, I think that both of you are missing that people also dislike lawyers because they feel that they don't always serve the best interests of their clients.

I think that the principal-agent problem still exists and creates problems as it does in other fields. Lawyers with billable hours can make out pretty well by extending a process longer than it has to be. On the other hand, with contingency fees, certainly we've also all heard stories of class-action lawsuits where the class members got something useless (e.g., a coupon for buying more services from the company that they now hate) while the lawyers make out with lots of money; the class members have a difficult time rejecting the settlement.
8.25.2009 8:35am
BN (mail) (www):
A short list of reasons why lawyers are hated:

1) Layers are a symbol of inequity. O.J. gets away with murder because he can hire a team of $400/hr lawyers. Warren Buffet is in a lower tax bracket than me because people like him can hire legions of lawyers to convince the legislature and the courts that capital transactions should be taxed at a lower rate.

2) Aside from economists, lawyers are the most arrogant group of people. I hate being in meetings with lawyers. You can't get anything done.

3) You can't trust a lawyer, ever. They will screw you over if it suits them.

4) You have to hire a lawyer to protect yourself from other lawyers.

5) Lawyers claim to revere the law, and they do. Right up until it suits them not to revere the law. John Yoo and his defenders are a good example of this.

6) Lawyers will argue on behalf of anyone or on behalf of any cause as long as you pay them. If I had enough money I could change the law with a team of talented lawyers. This is not hyperbole.

Having said all that. Some of my best friends are attorneys. heh. Once they take their lawyer hats off they are nice people.
8.25.2009 8:36am
corneille1640 (mail) (www):
Maybe one of the reasons is the car-mechanic syndrome. If I owned a car, I'd probably find it hard to trust the auto-mechanic who fixes it because I know nothing about cars and don't know, for example if I'm being overcharged. Similar thing with lawyers: people don't know the law and all the in's and out's. Of course, I doubt if people dislike car mechanics as a class to the same degree they dislike lawyers.
8.25.2009 8:41am
Randy R. (mail):
In the public mind, lawyers are rich. And they got rich by not working too hard - they get these windfalls of millions of dollars. They have fancy offices and expensive suits to show off how rich they are. And people hate that.

Of course, many lawyers are not rich, and many work hard, but the public doesn't necessarily see that.
8.25.2009 8:42am
KG2V:
First, I forget who I'm probably slightly misquoting, but there seems to be 2 kinds of lawyers, the kind who goes out of the way to make your life EASY, and the kind who goes out of the way to make your life hard (Bet you were expecting the law/judge joke..)

I really think that the dislike of lawyers has to do with 2 major factors. The first comes from the fact that MOST people deal with lawyers a few times in their lives - wills, the selling of property and the like, and it's an expensive dealing that they really don't want to use, but they feel they have to cover themselves if the other guy lawyers up, or to get what they want done worded in such a way that the Government interferes as little as possible (wills). Why do they need lawyers to do this? Because laws are written by lawyers.

An example - about 20 years ago, I was selling a piece of property out of town that was selling for 18K - the lowest cost lawyer I could find around here wanted 9K to do the closing!!! I ended up hiring a lawyer up near where the land was located (nowhere near here) and the cost was around 2K. When I said to one of the local lawyers "10K is crazy, it's not worth it" his comment was "Isn't protecting yourself worth it?"

The SECOND problem people have with lawyers ISN'T really a problem with lawyers, it's the problem of precedent. Most people expect things to mean what they say, and say what they mean. Laws are, in fact, highly changed/have loopholes and gotchas in them that have seem to have nothing in them that's written (plus the little gotchas that a term of art can be defined totally differently than most people thing, and in a totally different place in the law books than where the law is). People like plain talk, and don't like "weasel words" - to use an example "It depends on what your definition of is is"

Most people, again, will never deal with a lawsuit, or criminal law, they will just have certain very simple needs that are mostly, let's face it, boilerplate. Selling an undeveloped piece of land SHOULD be a very simple deal, and in fact, the lawyer who did it said it was nice and simple, as I had bought the land from the Government who had previously used condemnation to buy it (75+ years earlier).

Basically, people have a problem because it seems that every time they hire a lawyer, they are doing so to protect themselves from "other lawyers" (not thinking that it's the client that has hired the other lawyer - then again, there are clients that use lawyers as a weapon)
8.25.2009 8:44am
corneille1640 (mail) (www):
Also, I know a few lawyers and a surprising number of them--certainly not a majority, but still a surprising number--are actually quite intellectually myopic.

I'm sure they're good at their jobs, which require a lot of hard work and at least above-average intelligence. But when it comes to talking about anything other than the law, not only are they ignorant, they don't seem to have any desire to know anything else.

Again, this isn't true of all lawyers I know, but it is true of a lot of them. (Heck, for all I know, the charge of intellectual myopia might be true of me, and I'm not even a lawyer.)
8.25.2009 8:46am
EricPWJohnson (mail):
I think its because - on the TV - they get all the hot chicks
8.25.2009 8:48am
krs:
When I said to one of the local lawyers "10K is crazy, it's not worth it" his comment was "Isn't protecting yourself worth it?"

Not unlike the Mafia.
8.25.2009 8:48am
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):
Do the Conspirators think of themselves as "lawyers" as a primary mode of self-classification? I'd bet they think of themselves as "academics" first.
8.25.2009 8:54am
AndyM (mail):
You might find this odd coming from someone who reads (and occasionally posts on) a legal blog, but I'm one of those people with a generally negative view of lawyers. Not a universal one; I certainly acknowledge a number of good ones (good in a moral sense, not in the winning-trials sense).

My disdain comes from the number of cases in which I've seen the legal profession twist both the common sense meaning (or the "spirit" of the law), and the apparent letter of the law (which I might be wrong about, being not a lawyer myself, but I believe I'm a lot better on this than the average layperson). Moreover, the legal profession never seems to come out against these offenses. Doctors do sometimes screw up and kill people, but when they do, other doctors condemn them and the profession as a whole attempts to change. Sometimes a scientist will fake his results, but when it comes out, the rest of the science world reacts with shock and horror, and universities add more oversight to similar work.

With lawyers, you get class action lawsuits where a company sold a faulty product, and the result is a settlement of "X million dollars to the lawyers, and consumers get a coupon for 50 cents off their next purchase of the faulty product". To your average layperson, this is a horrible twisting of the purpose of class-action laws, and the split of real money versus a coupon (which is inevitably small enough that the company is making a profit if you buy something at the discount, meaning they are being _rewarded_ every time one is used) makes non-lawyers wonder how exactly justice is being served. I've never seen a bar association protest that this is perhaps unfair to the consumers, or press for legal changes that would make these abuses less likely, or sanction the lawyers involved in these cases; in fact, class action lawyers appear to be celebrated as effective.

Similarly, consider the printer that I just bought. Inside the box was a sheet of paper stating that by opening the box, I had agreed to only use the printer with official Lexmark (TM) overpriced ink. Now, I am just a layperson, but this "contract" offends me in all sorts of ways. It's a contract which was not presented to me before I opened the box and "accepted" it, meaning I had no chance to see the terms of the contract (or even know that I was accepting one, unless there was some fine print on the outer packaging that I missed). Most people do not believe opening a box constitutes "accepting" a contract the way a signature or even a verbal 'yes' does. Most people believe in some sort of doctrine of first sale, whereby after I've purchased a printer (and this is hardware, not a piece of software where there might be some argument that it is information being licensed), it's mine to use as I wish (they're free to void the warranty if I use it in unexpected ways, but that's not what they're claiming). Most people believe that a contract, in order to be valid, must present some consideration to both sides, and the "contract" wasn't giving me anything -- I'd already bought the printer, and it wasn't offering an extended warranty or special services for using their special overpriced ink, it was simply stating that I had already agreed to use it.

Now, I don't object to lawyers taking the "wrong" side here -- it's fine that there are lawyers representing Lexmark. And I don't object to a lawyer trying to write the best contract for their client; that's what they were hired to do. What I object to is that all common sense understanding of the law has been lost here. My problem with the legal profession is that as a group, the profession is not willing to step back and say "wait, that's not what contract law is supposed to do. Either someone is committing serious malpractice by writing/approving that contract, or this law needs to change."
8.25.2009 8:57am
Jeff Kadi:
whit:

i have mentioned this many times. as far as i know, there is no "ride a long" program for corporate lawyers, etc.

If anyone, anyone at all, is interested in doing a "ride along" with a midwest patent attorney, I would be happy to oblige.

You may realize we are less blood-sucking than our criminal defense &prosecution fellows.
8.25.2009 8:58am
Boblipton:
I understand that if a dispute goes to court, then there has to be a lawyer on each side. However, the net effect, when there is a lop-sided perception of a case, is that there is always a lawyer to serve as advocate for the misliked side. Nor is there any perception that there is anything unusual about this, raising the perception that either lawyers as a group tolerate all sorts of wacko positions in their group or that lawyers, as a class, hold to no moral standards, and are simply guns for hire: pay them to prosecute child molesters, they do it. Pay them to defend child molesters, they do it and it's all one to them.

Given that, how can they be held in any esteem as a class?

Bob
8.25.2009 9:08am
yankev (mail):
All of the above. Not to mention that lawyers often have to deliver bad news -- your contract doesn't say what you think it does; the guy who injuted you is judgment proof; there's enough evidence to convict you of a crime you did not commit; solving a problem that you did not cause is going to cost you $XXXX. Besides we use too many big words, we look for problems instead of solutions, and we are trained to be skeptics. These are not a recipe for popularity.

The dislike of course is not new. Carl Sandburg died in 1967; I'm not sure when he observed that lawyers know too much, that

In the heels of the higgling lawyers, Bob,
Too many slippery ifs and buts and howevers,
Too much hereinbefore provided whereas,
*********



When the lawyers are through
What is there left, Bob? ************

Why is there always a secret singing

When a lawyer cashes in?
Why does a hearse horse snicker
Hauling a lawyer away?

Growing up as the son of a lawyer, I never understood what Sandburg meant. Once you start practicing, it's pretty easy to see.
8.25.2009 9:12am
BVBigBro:
As a non-lawyer I don't hate lawyers, but I hate the expansion of them, and their way of doing business, into areas of society that were once not, and should not be, governed by lawyers.

Lawyers are necessary for the technical aspects of writing laws and for guiding people unfamiliar with their legal options who find themselves engaged with the law. They do not offer any more insight into the rest of society and how we choose to govern ourselves than any other Tom, Dick or Harry.

People are fine with lawyers practicing law. It's lawyers practicing medicine, politics, engineering, business, etc. that are the problem.
8.25.2009 9:29am
Per Son:
It is like all these lawyers coming along out of nowhere. I mean the Founding Fathers were all engineers and doctors and . . .
8.25.2009 9:32am
drunkdriver:
For one thing, there are so many (I won't say "too many") lawyers. This breeds competition, and also the public encounters more lawyers, with a wider variety of quality then they used to.

Also, there is a disconnect between the "cheap and easy" cynical answer to a pollster, and the way society acts in practice. It's hard to quantify but I think society still regards law, alongside medicine, as one of the most prestigious professions. (The ministry used to be up there but has probably fallen by the wayside.) Not many people would be disappointed if their kid married a lawyer.

Several years back the NYT did an interesting series on class in America, which, while necessarily subjective, strongly suggests Americans still think the legal profession is a big deal.

People don't look admiringly upon the presidency, congress, or state legislature these days much either. But they know they need them, just like they need us. Perhaps we are just in a more educated and skeptical age: 75 years ago, few even had a college degree, and an ordinary person who met someone with an advanced degree likely felt intimidated. No longer.
8.25.2009 9:35am
Prof. S. (mail):
When Granny spills coffee in her lap and sues McDonald's, her lawyer is viewed negatively by the general public. Correct or not, the perception is that this type of action is driven by the lawyer's greed rather than a plaintiff seeking just compensation.

And when I explain to people that the burns were so severe that the woman needed skin graphs on her vagina, that she originally asked McDonalds to cover her medical bills, but they refused, and that the award was eventually knocked way down, they seem to understand a bit more.

The McDonalds case is an example of (a) people making judgments based on headlines without the full story, (b) lawyers getting blamed for the actions of a jury, and (c) lawyers not getting credit when they fix the problems caused by the jury.
8.25.2009 9:38am
Joe T. Guest:
I'm a lawyer and I dislike a lot of lawyers individually - we tend to be sanctimonious gits who think that everything can be solved by adding more lawyers. That the private practice of law has devolved into the sole purpose of chasing money, and the public practice is evolving toward the sole purpose of working out messiah complex issues, doesn't make me feel a whole lot better about the profession.

Oh well, it could be a lot worse. We could be doctors. Those poor buggers are getting heaped with scorn for opposing the nationalization of their profession. I think they're going to need to file a lawsuit to fight it...
8.25.2009 9:40am
Tim in Philly (mail):
It's really very simple. People don't like lawyers because most politicians are lawyers. The two groups are inextricably linked. In my opinion, politicians are just a lower form of lawyer. More greedy and less skilled.
8.25.2009 9:42am
John R. Mayne (mail):
I thought it was the puppy-eating that made lawyers unpopular. Mmmm. Puppies.
8.25.2009 9:47am
MarkField (mail):
Too many of the comments in this thread focus on current issues. As whit and sk have noted, people have ALWAYS hated lawyers (at least in the Anglo-Saxon system). They hated them in 1750, they hated them in 1590, they hated them every day before and since.

It's pretty obvious that John Edwards and hot coffee and class actions and so on have nothing whatsoever to do with the explanation. Prof. Kerr was right to focus on structural issues; the incomprehensibility of legalese, mentioned in the comments, is another complaint which goes back a long way (and which had even more force when the courts operated in Law French).

In my experience, though, far more people hate the "other" lawyer than hate their own. Plenty in the latter category, of course, just not quite so many.
8.25.2009 9:57am
Joseph Slater (mail):
I think Cornellian got it right in the first post. But I will add that those who are quoting Shakespeare might want to check out the context of the "first thing we do" quote and whether that character saying that was supposed to be a sympathetic one.
8.25.2009 9:57am
FantasiaWHT:
Lots of comments, apologies if this has been stated already.

One thing to add to the recipe of dislike - thousands or even millions of plaintiffs join class action law suit against big company. Big company settles. Plaintiff/customers get coupon for free product. Lawyers get $XX million apiece.
8.25.2009 9:59am
Jeff the Baptist (mail) (www):
(1) Some lawyers are good folks, but many lawyers are jerks. Even run of the mill lawyers. In the few times I have worked with lawyers, I have generally found them to be conniving individuals willing to twist every situation so it worked in their favor. And this was a completely social training situation and unrelated to the actual practice of law.

(2) Lawyers take the positions of their clients. Often positions they themselves do not believe in. Often positions they know to be meritless or frivolous. I'm an engineer. I understand doing something because a client wants it that way. That's common to most professions. However if I designed something that I knew to be unsafe or hazardous to the public, purely because my client wanted it that way, I would lose my license. Why are frivolous or baseless lawsuits any different?

(3) Lawyers make laws and contracts that require other lawyers to understand. And while legal language is precise to lawyers, it is generally confusing to non-lawyers. Laws and contracts are also generally structured so that the only legal recourse is via the courts. More jobs for lawyers. It gets even worse when you compound all this with case law that completely alters the plain text meaning of everything. All of this is seen as self-serving. Even when forced to use a lawyer, the lawyer is seen as a necessary evil.

(4) The fees. I know a few people who have had to engage the services of a lawyer. They were innocent. Their cases were trivial. It still cost them the price of a small car to prove it. Is the usual fee for a class action suits still 33% of the total award? Doesn't that seem a bit high?

(5) Bar associations are not seen to represent the interests of the public. They are seen as protecting the interests of lawyers. Why do lawyers get away with near or outright fraudulent billing practices?
8.25.2009 10:00am
CMB (mail):
According to the great book Language of the Law, lawyers have been hated for centuries.
8.25.2009 10:01am
ASlyJD (mail):
As was alluded to a bit upthread, while the public has a very low view of lawyers as a professional class, that is not the same as having a low view of law as a profession or the individual lawyers in their personal experience. While my family is no fan of lawyers, having been a victim of legal harassment and extortion, (Cyclist hit a dog on the street and crashed the bike, sued my parents for age- not crash- related injuries even though he had no proof that it was even my parents' dog), they were not appalled at the idea that I would become a lawyer myself.

We also have a struggling bankruptcy lawyer who attends my church. People don't care for him too much, but it has more to do with his complete lack of conversational skill than that he's a one of those "evil lawyers."
8.25.2009 10:02am
J. Thelwell (www):
The blog entry, and virtually all comments, seem to regard dislike of lawyers as something modern. But the unpopularity of lawyers -- in common-law countries, certainly -- goes back at least to Shakespeare's day ("First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers! -- Dick the butcher (Henry VI, part II, act IV, scene ii, lines 83--84)), a probably a good bit earlier.

My own sense is that the controversies around civil rights and personal injury lawyers, plus the excesses of attorney advertising have exacerbated the problem greatly, but they certainly aren't the root cause.
8.25.2009 10:06am
KG2V:
Thinking back on my earlier comment RE costs of lawyers..

I think a good part of it, at least RE contract law is that in the "normal" case (aka everything goes smoothly), lawyers are transactional cost/friction - the are a cost that, when making a deal between party A and Party B, we have to give money to party C

It's for all intents in the same category as a Tax (who likes taxes?).

In addition, at least a significant percentage of the time you're dealing with a lawyer (civil), it's an expense forced upon you by another party - aka you're getting sued by someone. Who's the first person you hear from? Their Lawyer - you now have to go out and hire a lawyer ($$ to prevent you from having to pay out MORE $$$) This is, by nature, going to leave a bad taste, because you are immediately in a situation where you can't even come out even! You end up paying out money for 'nothing in return' (yes, I know it's not true, but)
8.25.2009 10:21am
On Lawyers:
Prof. Kerr,

I think your post on Ted Olson also provides a good sense of the reasons behind why people justifiably dislike lawyers.
8.25.2009 10:36am
Orson Buggeigh:
I think the power dynamic of lawyers vis a vis the rest of us has a lot to do with the general dislike of the legal profession. Several comments make the same point - law is a guild, and the guild members effectively protect each other. Theoretically, an unhappy client can appeal to the bar association, but how easy is it to get results? Sure, in something as outrageous as the Mike Nifong case, eventually, something happens. But most of the time, the bar association has more pressing things,and the unhappy citizen feels they've been blown of by the system.

Maybe part of the solution would be to have a citizen's panel that acted as a regulatory oversight for lawyers. Much like the civilian police review boards in some cities. People serving on it would have to be non-lawyers, and not directly related to lawyers to serve. Their decisions would have to be binding. If the citizens had a really effective way of holding the legal profession accountable, it might make laymen feel that they had some approximation of equality with the legal profession.

I'm not a huge supporter of regulatory bodies. However, it seems as if most professions are accountable to someone form outside the profession. Why not do the same thing for the lawyers? It might lessen the general hostility the public feels toward the legal profession.
8.25.2009 10:57am
Stuhlmann (mail):
I think the public's dislike of lawyers is the result of guilt by association. Most politicians are lawyers, and who likes politicians?.
8.25.2009 11:08am
Per Son:
Comment on class action lawyer's pay.

Consider the typical big class action payout. A small band of lawyers work thousands of hours over many years. Meanwhile, they are footing the entire bill of representation (experts, research, salaries, drafting and all that lawyer stuff).

It is not as if they just file a complaint - presto! here is a million dollars to you and a coupon for the plaintiff.

Class actions also serve a purpose of correcting serious problems when a single or small band of plaintiffs have no chance on their own. You see this in some of the massive class action suits involving FLSA and Title VII matters.

All that being said, lots of the non-lawyer public puts lawyers in a special category. For example, I heard a management labor lawyer say how he wants EFCA to pass, because it will help his business. He is bad? Is a businessman bad if a change in the regulatory environment means that he will sell more widgets?
8.25.2009 11:08am
FormerStudent:
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that most lawyers just aren't very competent?
8.25.2009 11:09am
Per Son:
Maybe its the fact that idiots like Orly Taitz breathe!
8.25.2009 11:11am
New Pseudonym (mail):

If there's a category of lawyers some left-wing faction loves to hate, it doesn't pop to mind, so help me out if I'm forgetting.


Glad to help, since you apparently missed Erin Brokovich and The Verdict. It's evil corporate lawyers who want to keep poor injured plaintiffs from getting what is obviously due [sic] because of their evil corporate clients. I think Scott Turow wrote some books about this, too (although he missed the endemic corruption involving the plaintiff bar and judicial system in his native Mississippi).

No one has mentioned some items that drive litigation prices up without benefit to the principals. One is a lack of gumption on the part of judges to grant summary judgment (partial or entire) or dismiss claims early in litigation. Part of this is due to the difference between what the public thinks "frivolous" claims are and what they are legally, part is due to the decision to let the jury make a decision so a bad verdict won't be blamed on the judge (who may have to stand for reelection) if the verdict is newsworthy, and part is due to fear that clever lawyers can convince some other lawyers sitting on an appelate bench that there is a set of facts that could possibly exist that would permit the litigation to continue.

Anecdote in this area, I participated in a case in which the defense moved for dismissal because the complaint was not definite enough to meet the pleading rules. The motion was granted, with leave to plaintiff to amend. The amended complaint was little better, but a renewed motion to dismiss was denied. After discovery on three continents and a verdict for the plaintiff, defense appealed to the state court of appeals, which reversed on other grounds without addressing the pleading issue. Retrial resulted in another verdict, which was appealed to the state supreme court, which ultimately reversed on the pleading grounds. Neither the trial judge nor the first appellate court would address the issue that disposed of the case and was raised at a point where seven digit discovery costs would be avoided.

Which brings me to the fact that litigation decisions are usually based not on the merits of the case, but on the estimated settlement value of the case. Modified pleading rules, expansive definitions of classes for class actions, and nearly unlimited discovery drive up the cost of litigation without adding to the value provided to the principals, and people can see that. Whatever increases pretrial costs increases costs that can be avoided by settling, unrelated to the merits of the claims.
8.25.2009 11:12am
therut (mail):
Here is another example from a physicians point of view. Patients who have been in a MVA keep coming back every 2 weeks for their neck or back pain. Not because they have a real injury or because I said they need to follow up but their lawyer tells them to do so cause it makes their case look legitimate and their doctor bills being high (demanding all kinds of expensive tests) helps. Once their settlement comes through they never show up again. Same thing happens all the time in workers comp cases. They also show up in the ER trying to get their bills higher to help them get on disability. It is a scam. This is just ONE example.
8.25.2009 11:16am
Per Son:
I think the average joe loves their own lawyer and hates all other lawyers. How many lawyers deal with plaintiffs or defendants who want their "opponent" basically destroyed?

I see it on both sides. I am evil because I dared to represent a plaintiff against a defendant. I am evil because I refuse to act in an unethical matter toward opposing counsel. Many litigators see this every single day. In the end, we often obtain awesome settlements or full on victories, but our client (if plaintiff) sees that we could have obtained more, if we only did this, if we only did that.

Basically, lawyers and doctors are necesary evils in a way. I wish everyone got along with no problems and everyone understood each other. I wish everyone was magical and did not need medicine in a pre-apple eating kind of way. Too bad.
8.25.2009 11:21am
Bob White (mail):
Legal Profession was the easiest class in law school. The right answer was always "whatever benefits the law guild most." I'll also second Joe T. Guest's comment that "we tend to be sanctimonious gits who think that everything can be solved by adding more lawyers."
8.25.2009 11:25am
fishbane (mail):
Actually, I don't think high-profile situations with attorneys advocating unpopular positions is all of it. New Pseudonym gets part of this - the bulk of interactions your average person has involving lawyers looks, to them, as if the lawyer was unnecessary. Everything goes according to plan, the papers are in order, and other than a (to them) large bill, they see no evidence that "all that legal gobble" was needed, and see lawyers as something between gatekeepers and leeches on the transaction.

In this sense, lawyers don't get praise for smooth transactions for the same reason politicians don't get praise when something bad doesn't happen because of their action. For that matter, it is the same in a lot of professions. I used to be a systems administrator, and when I did my job perfectly, and nothing went wrong, people wondered why they kept me around.
8.25.2009 11:25am
byomtov (mail):
Lots of good reasons here. I'd add a couple based on actual experience with lawyers.

To Hamlet, "the law's delay," is one of the "ills we have," that suicide would help him escape. He's right. Get into any legal matter and what ought to take a week takes months or years. Why?

I think that lawyers, or perhaps it's just the system, takes inadequate account of the stresses it imposes on those drawn in. To the lawyer, it's just another day's work. To the client, and especially to the opposing litigant, it is often an ongoing nightmare of worry, expense, and stress. Remember that most people encounter the legal system rarely if at all, and when they do it's oftennot a happy situation. No wonder they hate it and all its complexities.
8.25.2009 11:40am
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
Orin, I'd like to expand on your last two paragraphs.

I see a difference between a lawyer, for instance, trying to make sure that Jeffrey Dahmer gets his civil rights, and viewing it as a win if he gets Jeffrey Dahmer acquitted so that he can go on practicing serial killing and cannibalism. I don't think the general populace looks kindly on aggressive attempts to get murderers off the hook. Because we or our family members are then at risk of being those murderers' next victims and we don't appreciate it. No, Dahmer didn't get off, but Mary Winkler is free after killing her husband in cold blood, and she has custody of her children. Her lawyer has a local reputation for creative defenses and he sure didn't let her down.

Also, it's tough for people who are not lawyers and who are not daily immersed in the subject of keeping the constitution pure and our rights untouched, to see cases like Lori Drew, who hounded that poor little girl into suicide, as only a freedom of speech case. As in, we have to defend Drew's freedom of speech, even though we think what she did was beyond the pale, or we're all at risk of having our freedoms suspended. I think we are seeing our big picture, of what kind of society we want to live in, and you are seeing your big picture, of what happens to our rights if we allow them to be constricted because of things like this. The woman who posted the 17-yr-old's info on Craigslist - I'd like to see the book thrown at her. You all aren't clear on whether there is a book to throw, esp. given that the 17-yr-old is of age to consent (not that she consented to this).

Things that seem clear to us aren't clear to you, and to be honest, I'm not sure who is right. Maybe this is one of those situations where it's best to have disagreement, and people tugging at both sides, to keep either side from going off the deep end.
8.25.2009 11:45am
RexV:
Lawyers are apologists and architects of the system. No one likes the system. At best, it's a necessary evil.
8.25.2009 11:47am
Jeff the Baptist (mail) (www):
I think the average joe loves their own lawyer and hates all other lawyers.


The average joe does not have a lawyer. They may know one or two socially and think they're good folks. Or not. Doesn't matter. But about the only time they "have a lawyer" in a professional sense is if it's largely forced on them. Either they're being sued, they need to sue someone, they have a contract/property issue, or they need a defense lawyer to represent them before the state.
8.25.2009 12:01pm
Per Son:
Jeff:

Or they want to draft a will, open a trust, divorce, etc. I am not sure what forced upon means. Is that kind of like when a doctor is forced upon a someone with strep throat, or a mover is forced upon someone moving who is not capable of moving themselves.

I should clarify what I meant by average joe. When the average Joe needs a lawyer, they often have a favorable opinion of that lawyer. Kind of like real estate agents.
8.25.2009 12:06pm
illram:
Laura - You dislike the evil defense lawyer who "aggressively" represents the murderer. If the perp is so obviously guilty, where's the disdain for the prosecutor who failed to get a guilty verdict? Why are you questioning the morals of the defense attorney rather than the competency of the prosecution?
8.25.2009 12:08pm
M. Gross (mail):
Wait, we're kind of missing the elephant in the room here.

There are almost no doctors, engineers, architects, etc. who are desperate to make ends meet. Obtaining one's terminal degree or license in these and many other professional fields corresponds strongly with a career path in which one does not have to compromise ideals for the sake of money or career advancement.

Then why is the oil and gas industry the most vilified industry on the list (by a large margin?) I mean, trillions of taxpayer dollars and AIG still paying bonuses, and bankers are still viewed more favorably? Heck, Healthcare is still above both lawyers and oil and gas, and we're in the middle of a debate over getting rid of most of their industry!
8.25.2009 12:10pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):

illram:
Laura - You dislike the evil defense lawyer who "aggressively" represents the murderer. If the perp is so obviously guilty, where's the disdain for the prosecutor who failed to get a guilty verdict? Why are you questioning the morals of the defense attorney rather than the competency of the prosecution?


Illram: Incompetence is not equivalent to bad morals. A better analogy would be a prosecutor who views putting an innocent person behind bars as a win - see Nifong, as noted above - and I have the same disdain, as you say, for that person.

Do you see it differently?
8.25.2009 12:24pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
Lawyers own one branch of the government in total. No layperson need apply.

The most dominent division of local government is the prosecutor's office. Lawyers have a huge impact in the executive at all other levels too.

Lawyers are way over-represented in the legislatures too as either elected officials or staff or even as lobbyists.

I say low public esteem is a fair trade for all the political power lawyers wield.
8.25.2009 12:25pm
Michael Drake, Esq. (mail) (www):
And of course there's the fact that lawyers are bad people.
8.25.2009 12:31pm
Winning atty:
Two words: loser pays. It'll clear up EVERYTHING.
8.25.2009 12:55pm
CJColucci:
Remember the kids -- some of us were some of them -- about whom it was said: "You'd make a good lawyer?" That was never a compliment, and the kids were never likeable.
8.25.2009 1:00pm
David Schwartz (mail):
And when I explain to people that the burns were so severe that the woman needed skin graphs on her vagina, that she originally asked McDonalds to cover her medical bills, but they refused, and that the award was eventually knocked way down, they seem to understand a bit more.
All of those things just point out even more reasons this case was so completely and totally wrong. The severity of her injuries show that this case is another example of a case where the extent of the injury colored the inquiry into the culpability for its cause. That the award was knocked down just shows the effectiveness of lawyers in getting juries to give ridiculous awards by playing on their sympathy rather than their reason.

McDonald's did nothing wrong. This woman did nothing wrong. It was an accident. Nobody is to blame. There is no negligence, no failure to warn, no unreasonably dangerous product, and this is obvious to anyone with even half a brain.

That the case went as far as it did shows a good reason many have disdain for the legal profession. That people continue to defend it is utterly baffling.

The net result will be that McDonald's will serve coffee that is cooler than most people want it and that is unappetizing by the time you get it to where you plan to drink it.

If this became the usual principle, manufacturers would sell only slow skis and cars that don't go over 65.
8.25.2009 1:12pm
iawai (mail):
This will get lost in the flood of comments, but I must interject that Lawyers are viewed so poorly because they are a protectionist racket that works (a) to create a monopoly gov't that extorts obedience, (b) excuses the monopoly gov't in all of its actions, and (c) is highly over-priced and under-supplied because of monopoly favor from gov't.

If there were allowed to be a competing company to the US gov't offering Justice services, and a competing license-granting agency to the ABA, the major problems that people have with "Lawyers" would disappear: they would be just another service profession that rewarded skill, instead of a profession viewed as being filled from a factory for drones that are experts only at excusing criminal behavior and obfuscating issues behind unjust case-law and jargon, and are cogs in the favor-granting machine that is closed to competition.

It seems that Cobblers (or even international shoe corps.) aren't so nearly hated, even though they provide a more necessary service and good. Maybe if they were forcing you to use their shoes, you'd start hating them, too.
8.25.2009 1:13pm
illram:
Laura- Does advocating for an accused criminal mean you have bad morals? Should an accused child molester not get a defense attorney? If he does, should the defense attorney base his level of advocacy on his personal judgment of his client's guilt? E.g. if the lawyer thinks he did it, should the lawyer provide only a half-assed defense?

Doesn't that kind of ruin the whole point of innocent until proven guilty?
8.25.2009 1:17pm
drunkdriver:
Per Son wrote: I see it on both sides. I am evil because I dared to represent a plaintiff against a defendant. I am evil because I refuse to act in an unethical matter toward opposing counsel. Many litigators see this every single day. In the end, we often obtain awesome settlements or full on victories, but our client (if plaintiff) sees that we could have obtained more, if we only did this, if we only did that.

What can you do, man- people shoot the messenger. That's the nature of the beast; you could get a great result, but if the client doesn't like it, it's no good. If it's a bad result but the client's happy, then it's good. Part of our job is to TRY to make them understand why they got the result they did, but like many of us I have a lot of trouble getting through to some clients.
8.25.2009 1:18pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Here is a tale of two lawyers, both relatives of mine which might help redefine why, though I am VERY unhappy with advertisements for law firms I see sometimes, I still have a respect for moral characters of lawyers.

The first is my mother's uncle. He graduated from Yale in the early 1950's and got a job with a prestigious Seattle law firm. One of his first cases was an individual who was being prosecuted allegedly due to his affiliation with Communism. He was ordered by the partners in the firm to drop the case, but he opted instead to leave the law firm.

He became affiliated with Communist organizations but remained fiercely loyal to the principle of rule of law. He earned enough as a lawyer to have a comfortable living, but not an ostentatious one, and he contributed a large percentage of his work to pro bono causes from rolling back McCarthyism to representing the families of deceased indigents in police inquest hearings. Even where he earned contingency fees, these were often modest. When he helped win a suit against Imelda Marcos for the ordered murder of two Seattle residents, he told me that his portion of the settlement, when expenses were subtracted and an hourly profit was factored came to something like $6/hr. He went on to win the ACLU's William O Douglas award.

In my life, I have never met anyone so far to the left or anyone so methodologically conservative in his approach. A few years before his death (in the early 1990's), I remember discussing the question with him of the second amendment and whether it provides an individual right. I was surprised at his response which was almost exactly in line with the later Supreme Court ruling in Heller. He was extremely principled and someone who fought time and time again for the rule of law.

The second lawyer mentioned here is my aunt, who is a public defender in Montana. She has fought over and over again for parity in resources for public defenders where clients are indigent, believing that justice is not just for those who can afford it. I have met many individuals who were aware of her work in this area, both in Montana and outside it.

Ambulance chasers are a problem. But there are many great, well principled lawyers out there who give up on economic opportunities in order to fight for causes they believe in. I have been very pleased at Prof. Kerr's pro bono work on the Drew case here as well and the folks at the Software Freedom Law Center do excellent work on shoestring budgets.
8.25.2009 1:19pm
Off Kilter (mail):
Lawyer's billing may play a role, though of course many people who've never hired a lawyer dislike lawyers. But consider two simple experiences of mine:

1. A ".2 hour" ($70) itemized charge for "Updating client database". This consisted of reading and filing a 2 sentence email I had sent the attorney that contained a simple factual statement to the effect I had completed a task I was working on. It required no input from him, and was merely generated to keep him in the loop.

2. Many years ago I had to present my version of events to a committee. I discussed this with my attorney. He wrote up his understanding of my version as I had told it to him. This draft went through 3 revisions, all related to my correcting spelling and grammatical errors in his work. He billed me for every revision.
8.25.2009 1:33pm
Patrick216:
I think you're onto something. I hear the "the law favors lawyers" claim raised often--and I find most of the time, it's an expression of frustration over cost and delay associated with the litigation process. I do a ton of commercial creditor's rights and bankruptcy work. My bank clients, for example, consistently express frustration over the ability of debtors to stall foreclosures or collection proceedings for years by raising patently frivolous objections. But as a matter of substance, outside of the class action arena and consumer protection laws, I don't see many laws out there that benefit lawyers directly.

I question what greater role the courts could play to stave off litigation abuse. I remember debtor's counsel in one foreclosure case opposing summary judgment on the grounds of "pretrial discovery disputes and a dispute with a neighbor" in a case where no party had served discovery and there were no neighbor issues. The magistrate granted summary judgment and debtor's counsel filed an objection to that, this time denying that her client had failed to make payments on an "installment loan" that did not exist. Those filings slowed the case down by almost 9 months. We filed for sanctions, and the judge denied it, but later admitted to us that he should have granted it, but was too afraid to "chill" lawyers from adequately defending their clients. I was absolutely flabbergasted.
8.25.2009 1:34pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
I'm a lawyer. Here's what I think:

1. A lot of lawyers are jerks;

2. Suing or getting sued is expensive and unpleasant. The lawyers get blamed for that, even though its the clients who create the cases;

3. People usually get mixed up with lawyers because something bad has happened to them. As a result, people are usually already mad before they ever see a lawyer;

4. After years and years of dealing with the same issues over and over again, even lawyers who weren't jerks to begin with can appear jaded and cynical.

We work every day in a process that exists to regulate and mitigate and clean up the results of ignorance, folly, greed and the like. A lot of the muck spills onto us. People see us profiting from that, and some of us reveling in it, and it causes them to dislike us.
8.25.2009 1:40pm
krs:
1. In response to an earlier comment:

If there were allowed to be a competing company to the US gov't offering Justice services, and a competing license-granting agency to the ABA,


The ABA accredits law schools and talks a lot of smack; it doesn't license lawyers. Competing with the US government to "offer[] Justice services" are 50 state governments and a bunch of arbitrators. Most litigation is in state court.

2. I agree with einhverfr re: Prof. Kerr's pro bono work. If only all defense lawyers were so admirable. I'm happy that Prof. Kerr hasn't been on TV trashing the personal integrity of the police and the prosecutors, suggesting that Drew is the victim of a political conspiracy started by the victim's family, looking for experts to testify that Drew has ADD, and reminding the world that the Federalist Papers were written under pseudonyms.
8.25.2009 1:40pm
Off Kilter (mail):
"But as a matter of substance, outside of the class action arena and consumer protection laws, I don't see many laws out there that benefit lawyers directly. "

Are you kidding? The entire realm of victimless crime laws benefits lawyers directly.
8.25.2009 1:50pm
EMG:

Dad has a family doctor....

But he doesn't have a family lawyer. And it's not just because he doesn't need a lawyer that often; it's not like his plumbing breaks every few months, right? And he's got a lot of forms and contracts and the like that come in, and honestly he doesn't parse legal writing well. He certainly could use a family lawyer, the kind of guy who he could show a 401(k) disbursement option form or a copy of his deed restrictions of what have you, get half an hour of his time, probably only ten minutes of which the lawyer would need to say "yup, everything's in order, just fill out this form and mail it in, and remind me to the missus."

But it's hard to find a street-level lawyer like that, these days.


With due respect, the only reason your Dad (or anyone) doesn't have a lawyer like that is because he hasn't bothered to consult one for the little things. Lawyers are a dime a dozen - much more accessible to the guy off the street than, say, a CPA - and all you need to "find" one is the yellow pages, or these days, the internet. For many little things, a lot of lawyers give perfectly sound free advice over the phone. For the not-quite-so-little things, they are happy to charge a commensurately small fee, or even count it as free advertising for your eventual larger need (although of course one mustn't presume).

If you only go to lawyers for big-ticket problems, of course you're going to think that's all they're for (and if you wait until then, you make yourself a mark for the greedy ones). It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
8.25.2009 1:56pm
t-boy (mail):
I have several friends that I knew growing up or in college who went on to law school and became lawyers. By far the most successful of them was a sleezy, two-faced, lying bastard, who would do anything to get ahead.

My biggest problem with lawyers is the fear of inaction that they have put into our lives. The multitude of incomprehensible laws and stories of huge amounts of money taken from people or companies for small mistakes or forgivable oversights is frightening. The feeling of powerlessness when it comes to legal proceedings scares me to death. The risk of making a small mistake that will be blown out of proportion to give someone a lottery payday makes me think twice of taking any business risks at all.

Compounded on top of all of this you have real manipulation of the basic legal tenants of this country. The empowerment of the federal legislature by the federal courts. Freedoms taken away from people to correct historical inequalities.

Lawyers have the real power in this country. There is no balance for anyone else. If someone gets too uppity, the lawyers draft new laws or interpet old ones differently to keep them down.
8.25.2009 2:10pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Also, most folks don't know how to use lawyers' services effectively. I do consult lawyers when I think it is prudent, often on immigration matters (like "what do we need to do to maximize the chance my mother-in-law's visa application is accepted"). These are discrete 1/2 to 1 hr consulting cases and we don't expect the lawyer to handle anything afterwards.

However, my experience is that lawyer billing sucks. In my business (IT consulting) my policy is that any email correspondence or phone call (to office, not cell phone) is free if the effort on my side is less than fifteen minutes. This policy is designed to help my customers stay out of trouble by giving them a place to call where I can tell them whether they need me to come down and fix something, get involved in something else, or just tell them not to worry. I have never seen a lawyer with a similar policy.

The fact is however, that this really can only apply to sales issues where I can get a basic description of work and make an appointment for an initial consultation or where there is something I am currently working on for a customer where a problem arises and I can tell them immediately whether or not I need to take a closer look.

However, such a policy is good. I have had numerous customers who didn't take advantage of it and ended up with serious trouble when I was out of town for problems that had been developing for months. Many legal issues are the same. Something that could have been fixed in 1 hr a month before got fixed in 5 hrs (all billable) remotely performed because the problem progressed and I was out of town when the sh*t hit the fan, so to speak.

Usually folk express concern that customers will call them all the time to ask for advice, but let's face it, most customers have too much else to do, and don't really WANT to spend time on the phone with lawyers, IT consultants or anyone else if they don't have to.
8.25.2009 2:21pm
EMG:

I have never seen a lawyer with a similar policy.


I have. Several, in fact. But many people go to lawyers who are fancier than they actually need - big practices with big ads in the phone book - when a randomly chosen solo practitioner will do. (And will as often or not, actually have a better education under his belt.)
8.25.2009 2:36pm
barracuda:
I am a lawyer and have been one for twenty years. I work or have worked as a prosecutor, a criminal defense lawyer, a personal injury lawyer, and in general civil litigation. I have defended innocent and guilty people, wrongoers and those who have been wronged, powerless individuals and powerful corporations, employers and employees, insurance companies and those who seek remuneration from insurance companies. I have worked for, with and against 1,000 lawyers in my legal career.

I have met a few lawywers who exhibit the characteristics complained about in this thread. But most, and I mean most, are upstanding, thoughtful members of the profession who want to do the right and best thing for their clients, who won't take just any case, who do a lot more "free" work than anyone know because clients don't pay and who always advises their clients up front--AS IS REQUIRED BY THE ETHICAL RULES OF THE PROFESSION--about the potential fees and costs in any case. I have never been told by a doctor what his or her hourly fee is or what my treatment will cost me.

If you want to complain about the legal SYSTEM, go right ahead. Please try to come up with something better.
8.25.2009 2:38pm
ShelbyC:
Years ago on Crossfire, the topic was about whether lawers should be covered under hate crime laws or something like that. And right out of the box, Pat Bucchannon turn to the lawyer on the left and said,


"You lawyers got your reputation the old-fashoned way, didn'tcha?"
8.25.2009 2:50pm
ShelbyC:
barracuda:

I am a lawyer and have been one for twenty years...


Probably the wrong handle to be commenting on this topic :-)
8.25.2009 2:52pm
John Moore (www):

If you want to complain about the legal SYSTEM, go right ahead. Please try to come up with something better.

It is the lawyers that allow the small minority of lawyers who are pond-scum to continue to get away with the things people complain about. Specifically, it is their fellow lawyers who control licensing.
8.25.2009 2:59pm
barracuda:

Probably the wrong handle to be commenting on this topic :-)

Shark was already taken!
8.25.2009 3:02pm
Jeff the Baptist (mail) (www):
Or they want to draft a will, open a trust, divorce, etc. I am not sure what forced upon means. Is that kind of like when a doctor is forced upon a someone with strep throat, or a mover is forced upon someone moving who is not capable of moving themselves.

Yes, my list was not comprehensive. The point is that:

(1) They probably do not have a personal attachment to "their own" lawyer. They probably do not do regular business with him. He is a contractor hired to do a specific job.

(2) The specific job probably isn't a happy one. Most people do their best to avoid needing the services of a lawyer. Lawyers are expensive and most of the situations that require them are not positive ones. You're paying a lawyer to help make a bad situation go away or mitigate its badness. But mostly the positive outcome is relief when it resolves. People are not generally winning some lawyer lottery.

(3) With medicine, I can assess my symptoms myself and determine whether I need to see a doctor. If I'm moving, I can enlist the aid of friends and pay them with pizza. But with the law, I need a lawyer for even the most basic things. And the other side has lawyers too. When I get sick, I don't have a showdown between opposing doctors.

Sometimes hiring a lawyer is just a technicality or tax. Sometimes it's like hiring a legal mercenary to do courtroom battle for you. Once in the courtroom, he's doing battle with other lawyers. You're most likely to come out of the experience thinking "he's a competent barrister with reasonable rates" or "glad he's on my side" rather than "he's a wonderful guy."
8.25.2009 3:10pm
CG:
As a non-lawyer who has worked with lawyers for over 15 years:

1. Lawyers charge way too much for their services...$500+ an hour is more than any lawyer is worth...plus, they don't offer itemized bills so people can see what they're paying for. In the firm where I worked, clients were charged the fee for the Westlaw search plus %50 extra plus the billable hours of the attorney doing the search!

2. Lawyers make everything needlessly complicated - common things like divorce, running a small business, etc should be easier to figure out if you'd rather "do it yourself" and not hire a lawyer. Sometimes, even just talking to a lawyer is like pulling teeth...

3. I have several lawyer friends...that said...I've encountered many lawyers who are condescending, egotistical jerks and who think anyone who is not a lawyer is dumb...(and many are pretty boring people, consumed by their work to boot)

jmo!
8.25.2009 3:31pm
Bill Long:
People's general hate of lawyers stems from the combination of zealous advocacy and fee arrangements based on a contingent component. Zealous advocacy imposes not just a right, but an ethical obligation, on attorneys to assert even in cases in which the law and facts are against them, any argument that can be made in "good faith" in favor of their client, even when the lawyer lacks belief that the argument is correct. If a layperson made a statement that he believed to be not correct, but that could be supported by some "good faith" argument based on what other evidence existed, he would be prosecuted for perjury. In other words, what is treated as lying by a layperson is in fact an ethical obligation of a lawyer -- a lawyer is ethically obligated to lie if necessary on behalf of his client. The contingent fee part of the equation puts the lawyer into a conflict of interest which results in the "good faith" standard of zealous advocacy to be pushed far, far over the line. So the general public views lawyers, rightly, as a profession of liars.
8.25.2009 3:34pm
Xanthippas (mail) (www):

But it's hard to find a street-level lawyer like that, these days. When does Dad have to deal with lawyers, then? Well, usually when someone's trying to push him around. Some business he's never dealt with claims he owes them money, or the neighborhood association tries to hassle him over a deed restriction that doesn't even exist. And then he's got to go find a lawyer, and find someone who doesn't want to talk to him because there's no way his case will generate a big fee, and pay a hundred bucks an hour to be told that the other guy's lawyer is full of crap and just trying to push Dad around. So every time something comes up, and thank goodness it's not frequent, Dad has two unhappy experiences - one with the jerk lawyer who's hassling him, and one with his lawyer, who just wants Dad and his this-will-never-be-a-case to go away.


Speaking as a newly minted lawyer, I can tell you that there are a lot of lawyers who are solo practitioners or very small practices who you can get that kind of service/relationship with. The problem is those lawyers have a much, much lower profile than the guy with the giant billboard that says "Truck accident? Call ME!" You do have to be willing to look a little though, which most people don't do because they usually only call a lawyer when they're in trouble.
8.25.2009 3:47pm
Mike McDougal:

But with the law, I need a lawyer for even the most basic things.

I don't think that's true. For example, people send demand letters and form contracts all the time without lawyers.
8.25.2009 3:50pm
Toby:
1) Lawyers are where people intersect with the Law. The Law is despised. There have been several comments on this thread that "Lawyers are necessary to make the writing unambiguous". Well, have all the Lawyers in Congress then deliberately unlearned there clear writing? Whatever dang fool idea the Law will impose on me tomorrow was written by a lawyer, and will be presented to me by a lawyer.

2) It is an oft quoted truism that Hard Cases make Bad Law. Clearly, the civil rights era was one long sustained set of hard cases. Unforatunately, every lawyer trained since then seems to use that period to justify champerty and barratry.

3) There are a non-zero number of lawyers who use their "clear writing" skills aggressively to steal legally. My parents, when recently retired from active business life, in which each had been highly respected, were the target of a swindle by a legal team that just happened to be from Philadelphia. It involved an alleged endangered species amicus curia filing on some land outside San Francisco. A third party had rented this economically unproductive land to place wind mills on it. Somehow, it devolved into the responsibility of the land owners, and a several hundred page settlement revision being mailed to my parents every week. Unfortunately, there stamina and ability were fading by their mid 70's. Somehow, in all those documents, the liability and the land were both transferred to the law firm. The law firm harassed them for another year, and then declined to sue any more. With the suit gone, the liability was gone. And the Land, why they had signed it away a year before. Nothing to be done. Did the lawyers face disbarment? You must be joking; they were well known litigators of liberal causes. See oft-cited refusal of lawyers to police themselves, as above

4) In the local saying, any town too small to support one lawyer can always support two.

Aggressive lawyers -- that's their job. Advocating even for despicable clients—someone may consider me despicable tomorrow. It's the issues above that get my goat.
8.25.2009 4:07pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Jeff:

But with the law, I need a lawyer for even the most basic things.


Hmm.... I disagree here. When I was trying to get my then-fiancee/now-wife into the country in 2003, I looked at working with lawyers and eventually decided I was better off handling things myself. The bad lawyers were really sleazy, and the good lawyers didn't have the options I had (quitting my job, moving in with my in-laws, getting a job in Indonesia, and re-applying through the Embassy).

When it came time for adjustment of status, we handled this ourselves.

I have been looking at incorporating my business. I can do that without a lawyer. I need to write a contract? Might ask a lawyer for revision help, but might not.

Yet I also routinely ask legal advice for some things. I expect to handle everything myself until I get over my head, but most cases are pretty clear.

Mike:

For example, people send demand letters and form contracts all the time without lawyers.


On the other hand, I am surprised how often I get form contracts from folk who didnt read them. For a software job I got a contract from a customer once which read "All projects will be completed according to proper building codes..." Evidently he read "contractor" and didn't figure the contract was specific to construction. Not hiring a lawyer is no excuse for laziness, though....
8.25.2009 4:09pm
ShelbyC:

quitting my job, moving in with my in-laws, getting a job in Indonesia, and re-applying through the Embassy).


Isn't that a lot harder than just getting a fiancee visa?
8.25.2009 4:17pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):

illram:
Laura- Does advocating for an accused criminal mean you have bad morals? Should an accused child molester not get a defense attorney? If he does, should the defense attorney base his level of advocacy on his personal judgment of his client's guilt? E.g. if the lawyer thinks he did it, should the lawyer provide only a half-assed defense?

Doesn't that kind of ruin the whole point of innocent until proven guilty?


Illram, first of all, if the person molested a child, he is guilty, period. The court is to consider him innocent unless and until he is convicted. That is in order to make sure that he gets a fair trial and the innocent are not railroaded. Let's not pretend that what happens in the courtroom retroactively changes what happened in real life. Ideally the guilty are punished and the innocent go free. Ideally the verdict doesn't favor whichever side has a more eloquent, aggressive, or unscrupulous lawyer. Do you disagree?

Second, I'm not sure if you are not getting what I'm saying, or if you are being disingenuous.

Let's take the case of a person who has actually molested children because he's a compulsive pedophile. He is brought to trial and his lawyer knows that he is guilty, i.e., that he did in fact molest them, and he'll go on doing so if he can.

Scenario 1: The prosecutor's case rests on evidence collected by the police, who improperly searched his house without a warrant and lied and tried to cover that up. The defense lawyer complains and gets that evidence thrown out. There is now not enough to convict. I do not blame this lawyer, although if he rejoices in the fact that the man can now go victimize more children I would find that off-putting. I blame the police for being sloppy and doing illegal things, and missing this chance to get the perp put away.

Scenario 2: The lawyer does dishonest and deceptive things to try to get his client off. Maybe the guy has 5 lie-detector tests and fails 4 of them, and the lawyer presents the 5th one in court. He hires "expert" witnesses that he knows either are incompetent or can be bribed to lie. He bullies bona-fide witnesses until they either are too flustered to give coherent testimony or refuse to give it at all, and does this deliberately. Helps his client make up phony alibis and bullies his friends into backing them up. Then when the jury is swayed by his garbage, and the client goes free to molest more children, the lawyer has another acquittal on his record - whoopee!

I see a distinction between these two scenarios. Do you? Or not?
8.25.2009 4:51pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Laura:

Isn't that a lot harder than just getting a fiancee visa?


Under the circumstances (ceremonially but not legally married, expecting a child, etc), it was a LOT easier than waiting for the 1 year + for the BCIS to get to the application.
8.25.2009 4:56pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Also, (to Laura) I am having some difficulty seeing the bright line between your scenarios. In both scenarios, the lawyer impeaches the prosecutor's evidence until there isn't enough to convict.

As long as the actions have some basis in law or fact, I wouldn't fault either lawyer. However, if the actions have no basis the lawyers should be disciplined by the bar association.
8.25.2009 5:01pm
barracuda:
John Moore,

There are pond scum in every profession. That being said, the lawyer regulation system in most jurisdictions is governed by that state's highest court. In my state, you can petition the Supreme Court for a rule change. Obviously, a voice in wilderness won't make a big difference, but start a citizen's group and ask your state's highest court to put non-lawyers on the investigatory panels. Moreover, I wonder if non-lawyers realize how significant the lawyer regulatory system is in most states.

As for fees, in my state a client has the right to petition the State Bar for a fee arbitration. Non-lawyers do sit on fee arbitration panels. In addition, my state has very stringent rules about what a client must be advised about fees and charges. I tell my clients, in writing, that I charge for tenths of an hour and that a one-minute phone call is as much as a six-minute phone call. All the lawyers in my firm do the same. When clients receive their bills, the billing is itemized in detail. Again, a few lawyers I know don't do it this way . . . most do. If you object to paying for phone calls, talk to your lawyer . . . maybe you can persuade him or her to bill those as a "no charge."

If a client, particularly a large corporation with significant negotiating power, does not like the billing or billing practices of a firm, the corporation has the power and the freedom to force compliance with its wishes or go elsewhere. Insurance companies do it all the time! Indeed, any client can negotiate a different fee arrangement as long as it doesn't violate the state's rule of ethics, e.g., no contingent fees in divorce cases.

The legal profession is not perfect. If your lawyer is an idiot, an asshole or just plain incompetent, complain to the state's regulatory system. That system doesn't typically reprimand for idiocy or assholiness but it will for incompetency!
8.25.2009 5:02pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):

einhverfr:
Also, (to Laura) I am having some difficulty seeing the bright line between your scenarios. In both scenarios, the lawyer impeaches the prosecutor's evidence until there isn't enough to convict.

As long as the actions have some basis in law or fact, I wouldn't fault either lawyer. However, if the actions have no basis the lawyers should be disciplined by the bar association.


Okay, I think this pretty well explains the breakdown here, and why some of us think ill of some of you.

Look again at scenario 2. You are saying that his actions here as I describe them may have basis in law or fact. And you are equating those actions with scenario 1, in which the lawyer merely defends his client's 4th amendment rights.
8.25.2009 5:47pm
Edmund Kleegler:

I have met a few lawywers who exhibit the characteristics complained about in this thread. But most, and I mean most, are upstanding, thoughtful members of the profession who want to do the right and best thing for their clients, who won't take just any case, who do a lot more "free" work than anyone know because clients don't pay and who always advises their clients up front--AS IS REQUIRED BY THE ETHICAL RULES OF THE PROFESSION--about the potential fees and costs in any case.



I'm a lawyer, too, and most of the lawyers I know are lying a-holes who do everything they can to rip off clients. Fraudulent billing often isn't punished because it's hard to detect by clients and can be hard to prove to an ethics committee. But a few get caught. They can and do go to jail and have to pay clients back.
8.25.2009 5:53pm
Today's Tom Sawyer:
I think one of the biggest problems is that the common image of lawyer is that of a adulterous, alcoholic hired gun with a coke and prostitute habit (in vary degrees). And in some ways, looking at classmates of mine from undergrad that had gone on to law school, I would have to agree. Most were part of that sort of scene (at most, just partiers and alcoholics), and I think that the profession is hampered by the horrendously bad selection mechanism of law school. Law school really doesn't do a good job of selecting these individuals out of the professional pool since everything is hinged not on professionalism and learning, but on a single final in a class. The ABA should not have make a rule requiring that a student attending 80% of lecture time to take a final (which raises serious doubts about the profession if one can do well on a final and not attend class). Additionally, law students have the ability to use and rely on commercial briefs (which sounds like cheating to any other profession). There is a cottage industry based just on prepping students for tests. In the end, law school really doesn't do much to select out those who would add to the profession (Harvard not using grades is just one egregious example). And then reliance on bar exams are similarly problematic, since everything on the bar exam is taught in a review course (which costs extra as opposed to learning it in law school) but has high passage rates and lax re-attempt standards. Combine that with no journeyman or apprenticeship requirements (unlike the medical profession) and you end up with only front end selection (based on LSAT and general undergrad performance, but mostly just LSAT) and an informational problem in professional selection at the working end. GIGO then contributes to the public perception of the profession.
8.25.2009 6:14pm
Mike McDougal:

1. Lawyers charge way too much for their services...$500+ an hour is more than any lawyer is worth...

Then why do some people and companies choose to pay that much?


plus, they don't offer itemized bills so people can see what they're paying for.

My firm sends out a summary along with a record of every billing entry. That is the norm in my part of the legal world.
8.25.2009 6:15pm
josil (mail):
A fascinating thread, but nowhere do i see the usual response to "Lots of lawyers do very noble things."
So, "It's the other 95% who besmirch the legal profession."
8.25.2009 6:18pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Laura:

IANAL....


Okay, I think this pretty well explains the breakdown here, and why some of us think ill of some of you.

Look again at scenario 2. You are saying that his actions here as I describe them may have basis in law or fact. And you are equating those actions with scenario 1, in which the lawyer merely defends his client's 4th amendment rights.


You don't provide enough information for me to know if there is some basis in fact. I have trouble expecting lie detector results would be allowed in court either way, for example. If he hires expert witnesses and bribes them to lie under oath, that is clearly over a line. But if he brings in some that are merely misguided or of questionable competence, that is for the judge to sort out.

I said I didn't see a CLEAR line between the two. There are cases where the facts you outline in scenario 2 might be OK. There are other cases where it isn't.

The second issue is defining honesty in this case. For example, if a defence attorney gets sufficient evidence impeached using whatever methods have some basis in fact and law, even if he knows his client is guilty, I have no problem with that. I don't think a defence attorney in closing arguments can ever say, "Sure go ahead and convict him. I know he is guilty."

I do think an expert cross-examiner who impeaches most of the prosecution's witnesses even if he knows his client is guilty is not acting dishonestly. If at the end he says to the jury, "Are you SURE this man is guilty? The standard of law here is no reasonable doubt. Don't the following things raise reasonable doubts?" and goes on to list a number of theories he knows to be wrong (because his client confessed to him) but are in line with the evidence is still within that line.
8.25.2009 7:11pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
einhverfr and Laura,

There's theoretical wiggle room in the second scenario, except for this:

"Helps his client make up phony alibis"

It's a violation of the ethical rules for a lawyer even to allow his client to testify to known falsehoods, much less assist him in concocting them, the latter of which I assume would be illegal in most if not all jurisdictions.
8.25.2009 7:26pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
In other words, the bright line a lawyer can't cross is knowing falsehood. What confuses many people into thinking that line is routinely crossed is the lawyer's obligation to construe every fact in his client's favor and offer what may like seem far-fetched hypothetical alternatives to his client's guilt. But for the lawyers who don't break the rules, the one thing those hypotheticals all have in common is they're theoretically consistent with the facts known to the lawyer. This is why you sometimes see lawyers in movies and on TV (to some extent mirroring reality) discourage their clients from telling them too much; every fact known to the lawyer limits what he can argue might have happened.
8.25.2009 7:42pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
Okay, well, take this one:


He bullies bona-fide witnesses until they either are too flustered to give coherent testimony or refuse to give it at all, and does this deliberately.


Remembering that the witnesses here are most likely children. I know you have to be careful bullying children in front of the jury because they won't like it. But perhaps he does it where the jury won't see.

Now suppose that due to his tactics, which go over and above making sure that his client's civil rights are protected, remember, that man goes free and subsequently molests a child of your acquaintance. Maybe your own child. This child has been somewhat damaged both physically and psychically, will require therapy, and may never be the same; and the molestation would not have happened had the perp been convicted of his original crimes, of which he was guilty, and had been in prison where he belonged. You'd still think his defense lawyer did nothing but what he ought to do, and his conscience should be clear?
8.25.2009 7:44pm
Sternberg:
Sounds like the lawyer did do wrong. He went 'under and below' not over and above. Bullying a witness is unethical and witness tampering or intimidation is a crime.
8.25.2009 8:14pm
ShelbyC:

In other words, the bright line a lawyer can't cross is knowing falsehood. What confuses many people into thinking that line is routinely crossed is the lawyer's obligation to construe every fact in his client's favor and offer what may like seem far-fetched hypothetical alternatives to his client's guilt.


That's not entirely true. He can knowingly state falsehoods during arguement, i.e. "My client was elsewhere at the time of the murder. He is innocent.". He just can't allow witnesses (including his client) to testify to knowing falsehoods under oath.
8.25.2009 8:19pm
ShelbyC:
correction:

...testify to knowingknown falsehoods under oath.
8.25.2009 8:23pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):

He can knowingly state falsehoods


I am hard-pressed to think of another occupation where bald-faced lying is considered acceptable and more-or-less routine.
8.25.2009 8:26pm
Econ_Scott:
Unpopularity of lawyers explained ? Really do you have to be that Obuse ?

It may be that most of the public knowing a lot of attorneys, both professionally and personally. Most attorneys by midCarreer wish they'd taken a different career. For good reasons.

Then there's those who have been on the receiving end, of Bad Law, Bad attorneys, and an out of control court process, Take Family law for starters, Women, Men, Children get molested by the law if not by the lawyers.

Then of course there are the Sacred lawyers who are Molesting the country, Multiple suits against the Boyscouts, Churches, San Diego for having a Historic Cross on public Property, War Memorials with Religious symbols and using the "Civil Rights Legal Fees recovery Act of 1974" to extort Huge Fees out of Cities and School Districts.

The National Lawyers Guild and ACLU, let's be frank, were founded by card carrying proud communists; and, still reflect the methods of Gramsci and Herbert Marcusa, threatened a city against enforcing it's nuisance, signage and fire ordinances to produce this lovely "Fake Veterans Cemetery Memorial" as an In your face protest, they eventually took the names of dead sons off the crosses when it looked like it would incite rioting ... repleat with professional protesters from Berkeley, staged media events, singing Joan Baez wannabe's , coming to your town next to threaten your small city with millions in legal fees ... brought to you by Moveon.org, and the local heads of the National Lawyers guild. .... Lawyers with threats. Here's their fan website in the very short spring ... nice and green weedy don't you think ...
http://lafayettecrosses.blogspot.com/
... Perhaps we should hire LAWYERS to threaten to sue you and your country club and erect some monstrosity at the end of your subdivision and across the entrance to your country club.


Shall I continue with the three Legal Malpractice cases I'm sure will result in huge judgements for the clients, I've JUST recently referred two to MoFo who thought they had enough merit they took the cases and one to a former 20 year Justice Dept. attorney who is sinking his teeth into it ?

For those of us who have worked in industry and businesses where 50% of your day is spent preparing to defend being sued one day, where your biggest insurance payment is for "Errors and Omission" lawsuit insurance, it's easy to despise lawyers. Where you walk into a prospective clients office who is an attorney and his first question is "How big are your E&O limits". It's not a rare occurrence.

Now that most of the U.S. population is Urban and Suburban, it is exposed to more attorneys. The more the public is exposed to jurisprudence and it's practitioners, the more they despise it.

And What Percentage of our U.S. House and Senate are .... Lawyers ? How many Staff Lawyers does it take to craft bills that are never read yet voted on ?

You know California has 10% of the Nation's population and 30% of the Nation's Lawyers ?

Explains why more people are leaving the state than staying.
8.25.2009 8:30pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
...For contrast to lawyers and acceptable practices among them, look at the salmonella-in-peanut-butter outbreak. Apparently the company where the contamination occurred lab-shopped until they found a lab that didn't detect salmonella in their product so that they could package and ship it. Their motive was to maximize profit, which would mean not landfilling that peanut butter; and everyone knows that manufacturing companies exist to make profit.

But the fact that this particular lab didn't detect the salmonella didn't mean that it wasn't there, in the same way that an acquittal doesn't mean that the accused actually isn't a molester or whatever; and the innocent peanut-butter-buying public suffered for it. Making a profit should never have come at the expense of falsifying - that is, disregarding the positive salmonella reports in favor of negative without a compelling rationale. We get that where peanut butter is concerned. But if the innocent public is put at risk b/c a lawyer lied his head off and got his guilty client acquitted, that's OK? Not seeing it.
8.25.2009 8:39pm
KR Training (mail) (www):
For every engineer America graduates that will produce a new product, start a new company, create new technology, and generate wealth for him/herself and those he/she hires -- we graduate 2 lawyers that will sue the engineer and his/her company out of existence as soon as that company or individual has enough wealth to make it worth the lawyer's time to sue them and take it from them.

The nation could get by without lawyers much longer than it could get by without farmers, schoolteachers, nurses, engineers, and carpenters. Yet lawyers get paid a lot more (and hold more positions of power) than those who contribute to society in a much more substantial and essential way.
8.25.2009 8:46pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
ShelbyC:

He can knowingly state falsehoods during arguement,

That's news to me.

i.e. "My client was elsewhere at the time of the murder.

Even if he knows his client was at the crime scene? Again, news to me.

He is innocent.".

That, he can always say, since it's a legal conclusion. If that wasn't his position, the client would have plead guilty.

Anyway, here are the relevant ABA Model Rules:

Model Rules of Professional Conduct
Advocate
Rule 3.3 Candor Toward The Tribunal

(a) A lawyer shall not knowingly:

(1) make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal or fail to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer;

[...]

(3) offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false. If a lawyer, the lawyer's client, or a witness called by the lawyer, has offered material evidence and the lawyer comes to know of its falsity, the lawyer shall take reasonable remedial measures, including, if necessary, disclosure to the tribunal. A lawyer may refuse to offer evidence, other than the testimony of a defendant in a criminal matter, that the lawyer reasonably believes is false.


and here's the California rule:


Rule 5-200 Trial Conduct

In presenting a matter to a tribunal, a member:

(A) Shall employ, for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to the member such means only as are consistent with truth;

(B) Shall not seek to mislead the judge, judicial officer, or jury by an artifice or false statement of fact or law;

(C) Shall not intentionally misquote to a tribunal the language of a book, statute, or decision;

(D) Shall not, knowing its invalidity, cite as authority a decision that has been overruled or a statute that has been repealed or declared unconstitutional; and

(E) Shall not assert personal knowledge of the facts at issue, except when testifying as a witness.

As a transactional lawyer, what little I know about this is from 20 year old law school recollections, so you may well be aware of something I'm not. But the rules do seem to confirm what I remember. So what's the basis of your understanding?
8.25.2009 9:04pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
Leo, I think that if the rules you cite were widely understood by both lawyers and the general public to be generally upheld, and lawyers were sanctioned when they weren't, then lawyers would enjoy more popularity among non-lawyers than they currently do.
8.25.2009 9:07pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
Laura:

I am hard-pressed to think of another occupation where bald-faced lying is considered acceptable and more-or-less routine.

Subject to ShelbyC proving my wrong, as far as I'm aware it's not considered acceptable for lawyers either. As you can see from my post above, "bald-faced lying" is clearly contrary to the ABA Model Rules, the California rules, and I would assume the rules of every other state.
8.25.2009 9:10pm
Leo Marvin (mail):

But if the innocent public is put at risk b/c a lawyer lied his head off and got his guilty client acquitted, that's OK?

Again, until ShelbyC shows me otherwise, I don't believe lawyers are allowed to do that.
8.25.2009 9:17pm
ShelbyC:
Well, jurors are instructed that argument is argument, not evidence, so I guess technically it's not lying. And you could imagine the problems if lawyers had to say, "The evidence shows my client is elsewhere at the time of the murder" if he knew his client was there, but could eliminate the "the evidence shows" part if he knew his client was innocent. A juror who knew the rules could tell what the lawyer knew about his client's guilt.
8.25.2009 9:28pm
Econ_Scott:
Unpopularity of lawyers explained ? Really do you have to be that Ob(t)use ?

Jonathan Adler Shuffles and stares at his shoes trying to explain why lawyers are so despised in the U.S.

I recall the head of the largest Tax Law firm in Houston at the time, Paul Martin of Fullbright Jaworski (yes Leon Jaworski) berating Bill Archer (his fellow Republican Lawyer), top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, stating "you've got the entire brain trust of the U.S. tied up with the most complex tax code in the history of the World, and all our trading partners are turning their kids into engineers, entrepreneurs and industrialists ... what the hell is the matter with you people in Washington ?"
8.25.2009 9:28pm
Bruce Hayden (mail):
It is interesting seeing this from the outside. While I (obviously) haven't been a lawyer all my life, I have lived with lawyers all my life. My father was one of the most ethical attorneys I have ever met - the one time he got a speeding ticket, he plead guilty, figuring that any defense would require him to lie a little bit. And, because he practiced law for almost 50 years, many of his friends were lawyers and judges (i.e. former lawyers).

So, it is sometimes hard to fathom why non-attorneys hate attorneys so much. Sure, I have seen dishonest lawyers, but never worked in a firm where I thought the other attorneys were dishonest. And, my impression, having spent nearing 60 years around them, is that, on average, they are more honest than the average citizen.

One thing that used to drive my doctor friends crazy was when I would point out that while they were taking creative billing as CME, we would be taking ethics courses where we were being taught even the most ridiculously remote ethical violations. And, if anyone ever claims that the problem with lawyers is lack of discipline, just look at the figures comparing attorney discipline to doctor discipline. A couple of years ago, I looked at Colorado, and noted that there were as many attorneys disciplined a month as there were doctors a year in that state. And, when I was an undergrad, we had a strong honor code. The only group of students who consistently violated it were the pre-meds. There was a big to-do when the biology and chemistry profs started sticking around in class for the tests.

Yet, to some extent I understand. Today, a friend called for help. He apparently has a pre-trial conference tomorrow, and was overwhelmed by the blizzard of paper work from the other side. And, yes, the lawyers there are trying to pull some fast ones. And, yes, he will probably get screwed because he isn't hiring an attorney and the attorney on the other side is going to beat him on procedural grounds. My view is that they are cutting corners enough that they would be easy to beat - if he were willing and able to hire a decent attorney.
8.25.2009 9:47pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
Laura:

Leo, I think that if the rules you cite were widely understood by both lawyers and the general public to be generally upheld, and lawyers were sanctioned when they weren't, then lawyers would enjoy more popularity among non-lawyers than they currently do.

Well, now we're back to the topic of the OP. I assume most lawyers know these are the rules, and most non-lawyers don't. How often they're broken, I have no idea, but I'd be shocked if it's nearly as often as non-lawyers believe, since many (most?) non-lawyers don't make the distinction between the technical honesty required by the rules and the broader kind of honesty we expect from each other in our personal lives. They think even the lawyers who follow the rules, yet make make seemingly implausible arguments are "liars."

Don't forget it's the lawyer's duty to do just about everything short of telling a lie to convince a jury of his client's innocence. And that does mean that some criminals go free. That's an intentional by-product of our system of justice, which prefers erring in that direction to jailing the innocent, recognizing that some amount of error is unavoidable.

In the end there are still notorious examples of innocent people who spend decades in prison to go along with the examples of evildoers who are set free. If the balance of flawed justice is inordinately skewed one way or the other, I don't know which way that is. The highest per capita prison population in the world, though, suggests at least that our criminal justice system isn't terribly handcuffed by overzealous defense lawyers.
8.25.2009 9:53pm
Dee (mail):
As a lay person (not a lawyer), I think the overall dislike of lawyers is simple. The three C's:
1. Cost
2. Clique
3. Condescension
Plus - dragging things out as long as possible (as in filing only on the very last day etc.) therefore extending pay.

1a. Not many people understand or appreciate $250++ per hour charges (billed by every quarter hour) and the justification that you can be billed for every minute your attorney thinks of your case (as in he/she is in the shower and has a brilliant idea regarding your case. In this case 1 minute of an idea is automatically billed as 1/4 hour of billing hour price.) For people working for an hourly wage and for some salaried workers - that just does not compute.

2a. Not everyone understands or believes that you can play golf/have dinner with an opposing lawyer and NEVER discuss a case or make a deal. Here in our small state - ask an attorney from any state outside - and they LAUGH and tell you good luck trying to find an attorney who will buck the system - Of Course there are honorable and dedicated attorneys here - but in a small pool not too many want to rock the boat - and when outside attorneys say you won't get a fair shake unless you are a multimillionaire - it surely makes you wonder.

3a. Having dealt with some wonderful attorneys and some poor attorneys -the poor outnumbered the wonderful beginning with the condescending attitude - which is a HUGE turnoff.

All that being said - if you have a good attorney who believes in you and knows his stuff. You are lucky. And that attorney will help make or keep things right for you.

Without an attorney on your side - you are screwed. With a poor attorney, you are doubly screwed.
I guess you can say attorneys are like spouses - you can't live with them and you can't live without them.

Everyone needs to remember that lawyers aren't gods - they have the same (or more) propensities that the general population has.
Meaning that there will be a percentage that are lazy. There will be a percentage that aren't knowledgable enough in the area that you need them and yet won't admit it. Another percentage will be dishonest. Another percentage will have emotional or physical problems that make it hard or impossible for them to do their jobs.
Another percentage will be just too damn busy to do you justice.
Another percentage couldn't care less about who you are or what you are going through.
On the plus side - when you can find them or should I say IF you have the time and resources to find them - a percentage will care and stand by you. A percentage will find the time for you. A percentage will go above and beyond duty and expectations. If you find that - Hang on to them - they are worth their weight in gold - literally.
It is just life and lawyers are a part of it - but they are people too - all the faults as well as the shining glory.
8.25.2009 9:54pm
tyree (mail):
"That person will often be a lawyer for the unpopular side, fostering a very negative impression of lawyers."

This is true and for that reason lawyers should never talk to the media about any case. They require that their client not speak to the media and then they themselves step in front of the microphone and camera, after they have neatly combed their hair. Stay out of the limelight and practice the law instead and watch respect for your profession grow.

Personally, there is nothing that can be done in my case, for my father was a doctor. I will forever think of lawyers in the same way that I think of slime mold.
8.25.2009 9:55pm
Chester White (mail):

Lots of good reasons to dislike various lawyers are given above.

For me, the biggest problem is that everything, absolutely everything in this economy, costs a hell of a lot more than it should, because of lawyers.

Medicine, products that by some lunatic stretch may cause harm, anything involving real estate, getting rid of crappy employees, etc.

The giant class action cases where no one EXCEPT the lawyers makes anything, are the worst.
8.25.2009 10:00pm
tyree (mail):
Lior said "As long as lawyers insist that their misconduct is best addressed by their own guild, while everyone else's misconduct is best addressed by a trial conducted by lawyers, I don't think lawyers can expect any respect."

Thanks, that's perfect.

Let's change the rules of engagement so that when some greedy Jackpot Justice practitioner sues because of grab bar height in a restroom, the restaurant owner can hire a $65 an hour handyman who can answer the complaint with, "Yes, your Honor, I moved the grab bar up 1", I have photos".
8.25.2009 10:04pm
Bruce Hayden (mail):
1. Lawyers charge way too much for their services...$500+ an hour is more than any lawyer is worth...plus, they don't offer itemized bills so people can see what they're paying for. In the firm where I worked, clients were charged the fee for the Westlaw search plus %50 extra plus the billable hours of the attorney doing the search!
I think that lack of itemized bills is mostly in the past. It used to be the mark of the very top firms that they could get away with it, and their clients would put up with it. But there are few corporate clients that will put up with it any more.

$500 an hour does seem a bit high, but I see it all the time. Right now we are selling hard into CA, because we have lower rates for a given level of expertise due to our lower costs. Part of $500 an hour is greed. Part is what the traffic will bear (which is why there are blood baths right now at some of the firms charging that much, or $250 or so for fresh outs, etc.)

The Lexus/Westlaw stuff is likely on the way out. At one point, it was a significant cost. But now, the bigger firms have flat rates, and their biggest clients refuse to pay for it. For $500 an hour, Lexus/Westlaw should be free, as well as long distance, (excess) copying, FAXes, etc.

Indeed, the small firm I was with before we merged into the firm we are now in figured that it would only cost about $5 an hour in higher attorney fees to cover all those added expenses, and clients were a lot happier paying $305 an hour, instead of $300, and not being nickeled and dimed on top of that.
2. Lawyers make everything needlessly complicated - common things like divorce, running a small business, etc should be easier to figure out if you'd rather "do it yourself" and not hire a lawyer. Sometimes, even just talking to a lawyer is like pulling teeth...
Agreed. Lawyers are taught to see the complexity in things that others do not. Also, the higher the IQ, the more enjoyment there is in dealing with complexity, on average, and the more complexity that someone can handle.
3. I have several lawyer friends...that said...I've encountered many lawyers who are condescending, egotistical jerks and who think anyone who is not a lawyer is dumb...(and many are pretty boring people, consumed by their work to boot)
Boring, yes. Most lawyers are insanely boring. But so are engineers, and maybe even doctors. I do sometimes feel sorry for my daughter, when a legal discussion breaks out at a family gathering. My father, brother, and I, and sometimes a cousin, start off on some subject that bores everyone else at the table to tears (most often the daughter).

Condescending? No worse in my experience than any comparable professionals. My view is that MDs can easily be worse - many of them spend their days making life and death decisions, etc., and some seem to get a god complex as a result.
8.25.2009 10:05pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
Leo:


Don't forget it's the lawyer's duty to do just about everything short of telling a lie to convince a jury of his client's innocence. And that does mean that some criminals go free. That's an intentional by-product of our system of justice, which prefers erring in that direction to jailing the innocent, recognizing that some amount of error is unavoidable.

In the end there are still notorious examples of innocent people who spend decades in prison to go along with the examples of evildoers who are set free


I get what you're saying.

But I suspect that the fact that defense lawyers are expected to do just about anything to get even obviously guilty defendents off the hook tends to make prosecutors feel justified in not being totally honest in doing what they do. The entire system is built upon cynicism.

As Quality Manager at a chemical plant, it's my job to make sure all outgoing product meets spec. It's not uncommon that I fail a load of material. The plant manager obviously would like for all of our product to go out on the first pass b/c if we rework, it eats into our profit. So there's a little bit of a dynamic there, and there has to be. I pull one way to keep our customers happy (and the revenue coming in) and he pulls the other to keep product going out the door (and the revenue coming in). But we both remember that we have a common goal. It would be stupid for me to fail lots of material frivolously, because I can or think that's my function, and it would be stupid for him to sneak bad stuff past me so he can invoice it, and then lose the customer. But the way you describe the system, that's the way prosecutors and defense lawyers play the game. The common goal, of convicting the guilty and acquitting the innocent, or whatever, is kind of a naive joke. Right?
8.25.2009 10:10pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
ShelbyC:

And you could imagine the problems if lawyers had to say, "The evidence shows my client is elsewhere at the time of the murder" if he knew his client was there, but could eliminate the "the evidence shows" part if he knew his client was innocent.

I think you're using "knew" much too broadly. For purposes of legal and professional responsibility, I think a lawyer is only imputed with knowledge of the things he knows directly and personally. If lawyers had to treat "convinced by the evidence" as equivalent to "knowing," many if not most criminal defendants couldn't get a defense.
8.25.2009 10:13pm
Ben W:
An unintentionally long list of short answers (partly gleaned from the responses above):

-- People would like to trust each other. Any involvement of lawyers makes this impossible.
-- People like accountability. Lawyers prevent this.
-- People like simple, straightforward financial transactions. Lawyers make these impossible.
-- People like a peaceful, orderly society. Anyone who wants to disrupt that peace can always find a lawyer to assist them.
-- In divorces, lawyers break up families for profit.
-- People were told they had free speech. Lawyers hollowed out the value of this freedom by helping "offended" people use the courts to harass speakers.
-- People like to freely associate with whom they choose. Lawyers make this difficult, expensive, and sometimes impossible
-- People don't like to be second-guessed.
-- People don't like to be forced by government to do things against their will. Lawyers and their courts wield this force.
-- Lawyers have elevated process at the expense of virtue.
-- People like justice. Lawyers help the guilty win.
-- People like justice, and it seems unjust for an innocent man to have to spend the time and money to defend himself court. Except sometimes when a witness is lying, lawyers seem to be the cause for the need to do this.
-- People like to receive genuine value for their money. Lawyers charge a lot and the only deliver only ethereal "words".
- People like to buy things that are more-or-less guaranteed to solve problems. Lawyers can not truthfully guarantee a verdict or an indisputable contract or any other good outcome. And people won't be getting their money back if the lawyer failed.
- Many lawyers don't really understand non-lawyers. Non-lawyers view most of the things that lawyers do as, at best, a necessary evil. We don't look forward to winning in court. We'd just like to live our lives.
- There are enough laws and regulations that everyone can expect everything they do to be, at least arguably, in violation of one or more of them. And we're not eager to engage in that argument, even if you are.
-- The law is a weapon. Lawyers are anxious to use this weapon as much as possible, and lawyers as a group use it wantonly.
-- Despite all of this, and despite all the bad behavior that gives lawyers a bad name, lawyers are respected as a sort of "professional class". Lawyers should do more to be worthy of that status.

-- And let me add: people hear about things like the McDonald's coffee case. It's obvious to people that it's your own fault when you spill hot coffee on yourself. Don't spill it and it doesn't burn your crotch. Lawyers created the system and populate the system and protect the system and profit from the system that awarded her millions of dollars. Lawyers STILL defend this case, even though it's obvious and even though everyone has already decided. If you want to be liked, why would you defend this decision even if you think you're technically correct? Say someone was the world's most talented chef. He's not helping himself get that cooking job by putting "famous for being one of the surviving members of the Donner Party" on his resume.
8.25.2009 10:32pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
Laura,

Prosecutors and defense lawyers have asymmetrical responsibilities. The defense lawyer's sole loyalty is to his client, subject only to the professional rules. The prosecutor, on the other hand, has a duty to his client (the state) and a separate duty to bring about a just result. That imposes obligations on the prosecutor the defense lawyer is free from. The two biggies are that the prosecutor is only supposed to charge defendants he believes are guilty, and he has to show the defense lawyer the evidence he plans to use to prove guilt. The defense lawyer doesn't have to believe in his client's innocence, and doesn't have tip nearly as much of his game plan to the opposition.
8.25.2009 11:07pm
Cheap Energy (mail):
Class action cases have been mentioned above. A glaring example was the tobacco settlement a few years ago. The lawyers got, IIRC, several Billion dollars out of this deal.

I believe there are legal ethics rules about "reasonable" fees. While a 30% contingency may be reasonable for a 100K settlement, it was obscene in this case.

In criminal cases, how may times do you read about the guy with 20 previous arrests - who got off all 20 on a series of underage, technicalities, plea bargained to community service, etc - who kills someone. Lawyers are widely - and I think correctly - perceived as largely responsible for this.

The assault on plain meaning of the laws. "Novel legal theories" that reason backward from some desired (and often political end), reached by the most far-fetched arrangements. These have severely damaged out society, and are COMPLETELY the fault of lawyers.

The systematic dishonestly. Remember "the whole truth, and nothing but the truth"? Normal people don't like it when they are mislead by omission, clever phrasing (the meaning of "is"), selective presentation of evidence, etc. Most professionals get fired or shunned for this behavior. It seems lawyers get schooled in it.
8.25.2009 11:13pm
Leo Marvin (mail):


Dee:

Not many people understand or appreciate $250++ per hour charges (billed by every quarter hour) and the justification that you can be billed for every minute your attorney thinks of your case (as in he/she is in the shower and has a brilliant idea regarding your case. In this case 1 minute of an idea is automatically billed as 1/4 hour of billing hour price.)

I believe some years ago there was either a Bar or court decision that effectively prohibited lawyers from charging more than one client for the same billable unit. Say you're in the office for 12 hours, you take an hour for lunch, you spend an hour on administrative stuff (like billing) and you waste an hour at Volokh Conspiracy, you can't bill for more than 9 hours. That means, assuming 15 minute billing increments, you can't charge more than 36 clients for your work, even if you did work for 50 clients. If during one 15 minute increment you worked for 2 different clients, you charge one and give the other a freebee until the next time when it's that client's turn to pay for the unit. At least that's how it's supposed to work. I'm sure a lot of lawyers aren't perfectly scrupulous about it, but whether it's a higher percentage than anyone else who bills by the hour (e.g., mechanics, accountants) I wouldn't know.

As for billable showers, does it really matter where your lawyer is when he's thinking about your case, assuming it needs thinking about?
8.25.2009 11:17pm
GatoRat:
In addition to many complaints above, my chief complaints are a) the fundamental incompetence of so many lawyers and b) the way they argue against the obvious.

I've read way too many contracts that were chock full of grammatical mistakes, spelling mistakes, repeated paragraphs, paragraphs that make errors when repeating state and federal laws and/or which violate state and federal law. (I was once billed $2800 from one of the most prestigious law firms in my capital city for a contract that was almost unreadable. I refused to pay. The firm never pursued it.)

Lawyers have eviscerated the constitution by turning the obvious on its head. The phrase "interstate commerce" has been turned into something unrecognizable. Argue the obvious, plain meaning of this phrase and lawyers will lecture you in a very condescending mode about not just how wrong you are, but how it means exactly the opposite of any definition in the English language.
8.25.2009 11:32pm
bbbeard (mail):
Well, I actually like my lawyer. He's a pretty good guy. But our last interaction symbolizes the problem I have with lawyers.

Turns out my last traffic ticket was handed to me by a cop who was angry that I flashed my headlights to oncoming traffic to indicate the presence of a speed trap. He told me as he gave me the ticket that I was not allowed to signal to other motorists that they were under surveillance. I looked up the code I supposedly had violated; it had nothing to do with surveillance - it simply forbade using your high beams within 1/10 mile of oncoming traffic (and I was about 1/2 mile from the cop when he saw me flash my highbeams).

So I turned the ticket over to my lawyer, and he got it dismissed with no court costs. Good job. $250. Considering my company charges about $1000 a day for my consulting services, I can't really complain.

Or can I? You see, the way I look at it, lawyers decided to write the traffic rules that create the opportunity for revenue-generating speed traps. Other lawyers (or maybe even the same ones) write the rules like the headlight rule that cops distort to punish the behaviors they want to see punished. Other lawyers create the rules that say when and where I (or my lawyer) have to appear to defend myself. Other lawyers sit in judgment. And even when my lawyer gets the charge dismissed (for a fee), the judge has no incentive to go after the real screwup, namely the cop who is issuing citations based on a malignant interpretation of the law.

So, from my perspective, all those lawyers making rules and charging money to bend (or in my case, unbend) them form a racket. I seem to derive very little utility from this system and even less justice.

And this is symptomatic of the legal system at large. Believe it or not, most people manage to go through life without ever looking at the U.S. Code, much less the CFR, even less state and local statutes, most of which aren't even online. Yet lawyers have erected this gigantic edifice of RULES for the rest of us to obey. The process doesn't seem remotely democratic -- it's bureaucratic. And when some lawyer (or cop) alleges we have broken those rules, we have to hire a lawyer to defend us.

And of course, the profession is set up to defend against assaults. Tort reform? Dream on. Lawyers are more than willing to destroy the health care system -- but who among them champions "single-payer legal"? It would seem that the arguments for universal health care apply multiplicatively to the system of justice -- so where are the congressmen who cry "justice is a right, not a privilege!" and "our nation is too wealthy to settle for a two-tiered system of justice!"? Is it any wonder that people are cynical about the legal system, and hold lawyers in low esteem?

But, just as people like their own congressman but hate everyone else's, I like my lawyer. I'll keep him around.

BBB
8.25.2009 11:34pm
ll (mail):

Explaining the Unpopularity of Lawyers



You ever see those sleazebags that appear on TV?
8.25.2009 11:40pm
ShelbyC:

As for billable showers, does it really matter where your lawyer is when he's thinking about your case, assuming it needs thinking about?


How does it get determined whether my case needed thinking about, or whether his mind wandered unnecessarily onto my case when he's in the shower? Also, if he's in the shower, do I have to pay him to sit there and wonder whether, say, rule A or B applies, when he could just look it up if he was at his desk. As an engineer, I bill clients for thinking pretty often, but I wouldn't think of billing unless I'm sitting at my desk and focused. If I think about their problem while I'm doing something else, that's free. I wonder why lawyers think differently.
8.26.2009 12:04am
Brian G (mail) (www):
For the non-lawyers here, the main reason you see so many personal injury lawyers is because that is the easiest and most lucrative work. The hardest work I ever see from Plaintiffs' attorneys where I practice is to keep cases out of federal court. You will not believe the lengths that plaintiffs' lawyers will go to keep a case in state court, because our state courts are nowhere near as structured as federal courts and because even the most laughable cases will survive summary judgment here.

Let me give you an idea. While the main focus of my work is on insurance bad faith, I do some injury cases as well. I settled three cases in the past year that I spent a total of maybe 150 hours on, about 50 each. It may have even been less, but it certainly was not more. Had I been a single practitioner rather than an associate at a firm, I would have made about $10K more in just those cases than I do a year in salary and benefits. While I do not like the tactics of many plaintiffs' lawyers, I have to admit that personal injury work is quite tempting.
8.26.2009 12:40am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Laura:

One of the issues is defining dishonesty and "bald-faced lying" on the part of defence attorneys.

For example, consider the hypothetical guilty defendant who his lawyer believes is probably guilty. Let's say it was a heinous murder of a child (going along with your examples). Let's further say that the evidence against the defendant is somewhat shakey. What is honest or dishonest of the lawyer to do?

Do you think it is better for the defence attorney to let his client fry because he thinks the evidence suggests guilt? Or is it better for him to poke every hole in the evidence he can within the rules?

Let's take this a step further and say the suspect confides in his lawyer that he is guilty of the crime just before closing statements. Is it honest of a defense lawyer to go into closing statements and argue to the jury that the evidence is not strong enough to support a conviction and to imply that he has reasonable doubt that the guy did it even if he knows the guy is guilty?

I don't see any of this as dishonest on the part of a lawyer.
8.26.2009 12:51am
4therecord:
Get it ?

"Given that your comment largely restates the argument of my post, yes, I think I get it."

That's a bit of an arrogant response given the fact that he did not restate your argument. You pointed out that being an advocate for an unfavorable position is isolating. PeteP was pointing to the often unethical way in which lawyers act as advocates (lying) which makes people despise them. Being an advocate does not allow one freedom from all responsibility for their behavior.
8.26.2009 1:17am
Leo Marvin (mail):
ShelbyC,

I've done a lot of productive thinking in the shower, and never charged a client for it. That said, if it's productive, why not? And if it isn't, why should a client pay more for it just because you're at your desk?
8.26.2009 1:33am
Cheap Energy (mail):

Let's take this a step further and say the suspect confides in his lawyer that he is guilty of the crime just before closing statements. Is it honest of a defense lawyer to go into closing statements and argue to the jury that the evidence is not strong enough to support a conviction and to imply that he has reasonable doubt that the guy did it even if he knows the guy is guilty?

I don't see any of this as dishonest on the part of a lawyer.



I do. In the scenario you outline the lawyer is intentionally misleading the jury, with the intent of producing an unjust result.

Its a good example of a lot of the previous discussion - the lawyer technically follows the rules (barely), wraps himself in the "zealous advocacy" flag, and promotes the wrong answer.

The "knew or should have known" criteria they like so much doesn't apply to them.

Consider a parallel situation. If the Chem plan QA mgr said "sorry all those people died, I really suspected it was a bad production lot, but I followed all the rules" - the lawyers would have her head.
8.26.2009 1:48am
Dave N (mail):
I have generally agreed with Leo Marvin's comments on this thread.

The problem is that people think they know what lawyers do and most lawyers will tell you that what you THINK a lawyer does and what he actually does are two very different things.
8.26.2009 1:51am
Hucbald (mail) (www):
The FACT that lawyers are 99.9% scum sucking maggots-out-of-hell is evident to all dispassionate and rational people (I'm only quasi-rational, but not dispassionate, I'll admit).

Just the facts: Almost all lawmakers are lawyers - with a few tokens with thoroughly shysterized minds thrown in to make things look "good" - so all laws are written to benefit lawyers. ALL of them.

Every last judge is a scum sucking maggot-out-of-hell lawyer, so every decision is going to benefit lawyers (What are the chances that some shyster-judge will side with a citizen representing himself, and embarrass his butt-buddy fellow shyster? A percentage so vanishingly small that it is, for all practical purposes, zero).

Every last prosecutor is a scum sucking maggot-out-of-hell lawyer, so the citizen's point of view is always represented by an intrinsically dishonorable and inherently dishonest person who bears false witness for a living and who is, in the eyes of God, morally indistinguishable from a prostitute.

Then, WTF are defense attorneys? Scum sucking maggot-out-of-hell lawyers who lie for a living and who go to hell when they die (This gives me great comfort).

Finally, who oversees this obviously illegal monopoly? This racket of the racketeers, by the racketeers, and for the racketeers? Why, the ABA, an organization composed solely of scum sucking maggot-out-of-hell lawyers.

Brilliant! Lawyers make the law, lawyers judge the law, lawyers prosecute the law, lawyers represent us before the law, and it's all overseen by lawyers! What_could_POSSIBLY_go_wrong? Why, everything, that's what.

Nobody with a law degree - whether they have ever passed a bar examination or not - should be allowed to be a legislator or a judge. It's a conflict of fraking interest. Bar (ha, ha) lawyers from being legislators and judges, and circa 66.6% of everything that is wrong with our legal system would be fixed.

Lawyers are third or fourth class citizens: First class citizens create things, lawyers create nothing; second class citizens produce things, lawyers produce nothing; third class citizens provide essential services, MAYBE probate lawyers fall into this category. Every penny that goes into a lawyer's pocket is STOLEN from the economy and the citizenry. Every lawyer is a little drag chute on the economy. Lawyers are exactly analogous to leaches who suck their livings off of the ass-end of civilization.

And yet, we let these third-class shysters like John Edwards become multi-millionaires by suing first and second class citizens like doctors. Why? Not because it is just or makes sense, but because LAWYERS MAKE AND JUDGE THE LAW, and it's all just a racket to enrich them!

Good thing I'm not all-powerful, because the first thing I'd do would be to go Dick the Butcher and kill all the lawyers. Then, I'd replace the idiotic "rule of law" with the rule of reason. The "rule of law" is a pagan concept first foisted on ancient Israel (That would be the book of excrement known as Leviticus), and now on Christendom. The rule of law is, in and of itself, e-v-i-l.

I hope all lawyers die the long, slow, lingering miserable deaths they deserve. IOW, die soon... but not quickly.

People hate lawyers because lawyers deserve hating. There is no lower form of human life. I'd rather have a sex offender for a neighbor.
8.26.2009 1:56am
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):

einhverfr (mail) (www):
Laura:

One of the issues is defining dishonesty and "bald-faced lying" on the part of defence attorneys.

For example, consider the hypothetical guilty defendant who his lawyer believes is probably guilty. Let's say it was a heinous murder of a child (going along with your examples). Let's further say that the evidence against the defendant is somewhat shakey. What is honest or dishonest of the lawyer to do?

Do you think it is better for the defence attorney to let his client fry because he thinks the evidence suggests guilt? Or is it better for him to poke every hole in the evidence he can within the rules?


If the lawyer believes that the client is probably guilty, but he's not sure, and the evidence is shaky as in witnesses aren't really believable or have strong motivation to lie, then it is the lawyer's job to poke holes in the evidence within the rules.

I'm talking about cases where the lawyer is convinced that the client is a child murderer, and that the client will murder more children given the chance. As noted above, how many times does it happen that a person performs some unthinkable crime and it turns out that he has a long rap sheet? Defense lawyers may view acquittals of clients who are guilty as hell, or ridiculously short sentences, suspensions, probations, as victories; but law-abiding John Q. Public, who doesn't want himself or his family falling prey to these people, doesn't appreciate it.

As I said, if the defendent's civil rights were violated, the lawyer needs to point that out. But I like the rules Leo posted, where the lawyer is prevented from presenting known falsehoods to the court in an attempt to get these people back on the street.
8.26.2009 7:39am
Paul From Hamburg (mail):
I am non-lawyer from a family of non-lawyers.

I think that attorneys who represent unpopular defendants have very little to do the unpopularity of lawyers. Most people understand that, in a criminal trial, everyone is entitled to a defense.

It is the non-criminal issues that are maddening. Just look around. How often do we see an absurd sign or warning label and realize that it is only there because some lawyer insisted that it be there as a defense against another lawyer? My desk lamp has eight warning labels on it, including one that says "Do not touch bulb". My computer keyboard has warning label on it. The "owners manual" of my bicycle is useless; it doesn't say anything about how to maintain or repair the bike, it is just full of safety warnings. Football helmets have labels that say "This helmet is not intended to prevent injury."

In short, my life provides a series of daily reminders that many lawyers are simply parasites who get rich by bleeding money off of productive citizens.
8.26.2009 10:05am
Deoxy (mail):
In short, my life provides a series of daily reminders that many lawyers are simply parasites who get rich by bleeding money off of productive citizens.


QFT. It doesn't take "most" of the lawyers, only a significant enough number to count as "many".

If you want to do something about people hating lawyers, do something about the problem lawyers.... which will require doing something about the areas of the law they are exploiting, or you'll just get more of them.

Low-hanging fruit:

* Jury selection. Our jury selection process is ridiculous, such that a skilled lawyer can win the case before a single argument has been made simply by choosing the right jury (and yes, they practically hand-pick the jury in some cases - the OJ case is one high-profile example of ridiculousness).

* Loser Pays. In a civil case, the plaintiff's side almost never gets stuck with the bill, essentially allowing them to inflict significant costs on anybody they feel like, for any reason, at any time. Oddly enough, in many of those cases, it feels like legal theft (or at least major vandalism, as it goes to a DIFFERENT lawyer, but still), and people don't like being screwed like that.

Those two things would help IMMENSELY in reducing the behaviour that makes people hate lawyers so. There are other issues, of course, but they aren't as ridiculously simple as those 2.
8.26.2009 11:24am
byomtov (mail):
Lior writes:

As long as lawyers insist that their misconduct is best addressed by their own guild, while everyone else's misconduct is best addressed by a trial conducted by lawyers, I don't think lawyers can expect any respect.

I agree. This applies even in smaller matters. I've had lawyer friends explain that if some lawyer behaved in a seriously unethical manner, they might get a letter from the bar or something.

The dialogue continues:

Me: So?
They: Well, that's a bad thing to get.
Me: Why? Is there a fine? Do they have to do anything like pro bono work to atone?
They: No.
Me: Is their license suspended for a time?
They: No.
Me: In other words, it's no discipline at all.
They: No. It's very serious.
Me: Huh?
8.26.2009 11:38am
ShelbyC:

I've done a lot of productive thinking in the shower, and never charged a client for it. That said, if it's productive, why not? And if it isn't, why should a client pay more for it just because you're at your desk?


Well, IMHO probably because there's really know transparent way of measuring productive thinking. So we should take kind of a heuristic approach. Any approach that requires a financially interested party to measure time spent in productive thought would be so prone to abuse as to create the type of distrust that this thread is about.
8.26.2009 11:40am
David Schwartz (mail):
As I said, if the defendent's civil rights were violated, the lawyer needs to point that out. But I like the rules Leo posted, where the lawyer is prevented from presenting known falsehoods to the court in an attempt to get these people back on the street.
He is not presenting known falsehoods. Everything a lawyer says, when advocating for his client, is implicitly prefaced with "my client's position is that" or "my client would like you to believe that". Everyone knows this. It's not a secret. So they are not falsehoods.

There is nothing false or deceptive about advocating for another's position, even if you know that position is false, providing everyone knows that this is what you are doing.
8.26.2009 12:02pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Laura:


I'm talking about cases where the lawyer is convinced that the client is a child murderer, and that the client will murder more children given the chance. As noted above, how many times does it happen that a person performs some unthinkable crime and it turns out that he has a long rap sheet? Defense lawyers may view acquittals of clients who are guilty as hell, or ridiculously short sentences, suspensions, probations, as victories; but law-abiding John Q. Public, who doesn't want himself or his family falling prey to these people, doesn't appreciate it.


So, if a lawyer reasonably believes his client is guilty, he should do as little as possible to prevent conviction?

I find such a statement dangerous to individual liberty in this country.
8.26.2009 12:04pm
lpbutler (mail):
Mr. Kerr wrote:


On one hand, I think lawyers are properly criticized for how they often use their power to protect the guild. Get a group of lawyers together and have them craft some new laws, and the chances are pretty good that the new laws will be favorable to lawyers.


Well, we've had "groups of lawyers" dominating our legislatures for a long time. And what is the cumulative result of 200+ years of being ruled by lawyers? Its a system which, while still often producing justice, has as one of its primary purposes employing lawyers. As an example, anyone who has sat thru the jury selection process, even on a simple case, can see that its purpose is to take as much time as possible. Its definitely not to get a "jury of his peers". And observing this process on major cases, admitedly from the outside, a primary purpose appears to be to get a jury composed of bozos. And its not the fault of the bozos.

The law has morphed over time into something that doesn't make much sense to non lawyers. Lawyers get blamed for this. Deal with it.
8.26.2009 12:38pm
FWB (mail):
What to fix it?

Swear EVERYONE in, including the lawyers.

Pound it into the heads of the judges that they are NOT in charge but are servants to the will of the people through the laws the people write. Blackstone taught it, today we forget it. Good behavior means following the law as written not pulling ones "crystal balls" out and playing with them. Constitutions are superior to judges. Judges are subordinate. The subordinate is not lawfully empowered to determine the superior's extent or meaning. If the boss says "Jump!", you ask "How high?"

Keep lawyers out of politics. Lawyers, who maintain membership in the bar, are officers of the court and as such as part of the judicial branch, Serving in either the legislative brnach or executive branch while keeping bar membership violates the core values of separation of powers. If a lawyer wants to be in politics, the lawyer MUST quit the bar.
8.26.2009 1:21pm
Curious Passerby (mail):
There has been anti-lawyer sentiment for hundreds of years. See for example John Stuart Mill so we can't blame it on just advertising or class action suits.

Maybe it's because the legal system is like a complicated game if chess made up by lawyers in which only lawyers know the rules and you have to pay one of them outrageous sums any time you deal with the system. Pro se divorce, small claims, etc. seem to help.

I've heard that in Germany they don't have an adversarial system, both attorneys and the judge are required to look for the truth, not obscure it.
8.26.2009 1:24pm
Vader:
I'm a nonlawyer who has a reasonable amount of respect for lawyers. However, I think I understand the popular resentment against them.

In addition to the things you mention -- the guild effect and the isolation effect -- which are undoubtedly part of the picture, I'd also add the perception that lawyers put legalism ahead of equity. In other words, the lawyers are more interested in what is legally correct than what is just or fair. This is a bum rap, of course; anyone with a teenager knows that "unfair" describes the speaker's emotional reaction to a situation rather than any objective feature of the situation.

I think the key is educating people on why the procedures and legalisms are necessary. Nifong may actually have done an inadvertent service to us all, by providing an excellent negative example that has been thoroughly dissected in some popular books on the subject.

It would be nice for schoolchildren to get some of this education. Unfortunately, their educators are usually highly clueless about the law. And much of their time is being spent on frivolities.
8.26.2009 1:28pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
"So, if a lawyer reasonably believes his client is guilty, he should do as little as possible to prevent conviction?"

If a lawyer is convinced that his client is guilty, he should make sure that client has a fair trial. No dirty tricks by police, significant procedural errors (by "significant" I mean "not trivial"), jury tampering, etc. He can question questionable evidence. This is not "as little as possible". I don't want to use the "d" word here, but between the extremes of lying his head off and making up alibis and excuses and witness impeachments out of whole cloth on the one hand, and doing as little as possible on the other, I see an entire middle ground of representing the client to make sure that his civil rights are preserved and the jury gets an untainted case to decide upon.
8.26.2009 1:30pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
Now, einhverfr, let me ask you one.

Suppose that a man doesnt't want to be married anymore, comes home one evening, waits till his wife is asleep, strangles her, and then gets up the next morning and goes to work. He is arrested by the police and you are his defense attorney.

"Where were you that evening?" you ask.

"I was at home killing my wife," he says. "But I can get Bo to say I was with him that evening and spent the night at his place. Bo's drunk half the time anyway - if I tell him I was with him he'll think I was. Want me to talk to Bo?"

What do you do?
8.26.2009 1:36pm
loki13 (mail):
What do you do?

A lawyer shall not ... counsel or assist a witness to testify falsely ....

(Model Rule of Professional Conduct, 3.4)
8.26.2009 1:51pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
But if he doesn't urge his client to go talk to Bo, is he not "doing as little as possible"?
8.26.2009 2:03pm
John Moore (www):

I'd also add the perception that lawyers put legalism ahead of equity. In other words, the lawyers are more interested in what is legally correct than what is just or fair. This is a bum rap, of course; anyone with a teenager knows that "unfair" describes the speaker's emotional reaction to a situation rather than any objective feature of the situation.


This shows up frequently on this forum. As part of their training, lawyers are apparently blindered to the concept of fairness - since their job requires focus on other considerations (obviously this effect creates a tendency, stronger among some than others, rather than pure blinding). When arguing social policy, often the logic is focused on the legal correctness rather than fairness or other considerations. For example, when we discuss whether the government *should* have the power to force mandatory health insurance participation, the answer is essentially "Hey, haven't you been paying attention? The court decided that in 1937" rather than an a priori analysis.
8.26.2009 2:14pm
loki13 (mail):
I'd like to expand on my previous minimalist comment. The reason it is frustrating for people such as myself (lawyers) when they read comment by people like Laura is the sheer amount of misinformation that gets thrown at you. Because of that, it's very hard to cut through the clutter of the nonsense to get to the common themes on which lawyers and non-lawyers might find common agreement. Laura mentioned, I believe, that she was a Quality Control manager; a similar analogy would be if I started ranting about how all quality control managers were scum because it was their job to lie and let the worse products through because they were paid to poison children. Laura would spend so much time debunking the misinformation that there would be precious little time to actually address any real concerns she might have (and I might share) about Quality Control managers. In order, a few of the biggest issues I have seen:

1. All lawyers are not defense lawyers, heck, all lawyers are not involved in criminal law. And not all civil lawyers are "personal injury" lawyers. Would I start every comment about doctors talking exclusively about, say, plastic surgeons?

2. WRT to defense lawyers, many people have a misperception (shock!). Most aren't "high priced" private ones. Most are overstressed, overworked, idealistic PDs. And most cases aren't won by "clever" defense attorneys excluding evidence and making creative arguments- most cases are settled. Of the cases that go to trial, most times, the "bad guy" loses. In some PD offices, they'll bake a cake or throw a party when the PD so much as *wins a motion to suppress*, let alone an honest-to-goodness trial. Most judges follow the "guilty as hell" rule- if the defendant looks guilty as hell, they'll usually be some way to let the key evidence in.

3. So why do people have these misperceptions about trials? Well, duh, why do you think? Do you hear about, or remember, someone copping a plea? Or a run-of-the-mill conviction? No. But when one bad guy gets off... every media outlet in town will be there to cover it. And it builds up over time. As do the urban legends (how many people with the 20+ crime rapsheets are out there today in all their murderin' glory.... are we talking jaywalking?).

4. Then people (like Laura) have a fundamental misconception about both the adversarial process and the ethical rules lawyers must abide by. This is because our job is somewhat bizarre, and our ethical rules don't precisely map on to "real world" ethical rules- they can be more strict in some areas and more lax in others. But the adversarial process is the main one- the belief is that in our system, the adversarial process is used to uncover the truth. We set up this system with its rules, and when both sides abide by those rules, the truth will be uncovered. You may (or may not) believe this, but it is *our system*. The prosecutor and defense attorney or playing their roles in the system, and were either to abdicate their duty, the system would not work. Many argue that because of various factors, the system is broken, but nothing would be worse than to say that defense attorneys should place themselves as the unilateral judges and determine how much "justice" their clients should get- then a client would have to not only convince the judge/jury (finder of fact) but their own advocate of their innocence? Sounds kafka-esque to me.

5. But these mounds of misperception are widespread, and obscure what I feel are damaging issues. I personally don't like the lawyer advertising I see, and I think it does a disservice to our profession (but thanks to SCOTUS and the 1st, it is what it is). I wish we were a little more like the AMA and had stricter barriers to entry, not from a price-competitive standpoint, but from a quality control standpoint (do we really need all these law schools churning out JDs with little hope of employment?). I wish there was a stronger emphasis on ethics than we currently have in the profession, AND that the emphasis we have was better communicated to the public (I bet Laura and many of the commenters on this thread are not aware that state bars have moral character and fitness requirements, and that we are tested, albeit just the MPRE, on our ethic separately and in addition to the ethics questions we get on our state bar).
8.26.2009 2:19pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
Loki, I am responding directly to einhverfr, who in response to me saying that defense lawyers should not resort to deception to spring a guilty client:


"So, if a lawyer reasonably believes his client is guilty, he should do as little as possible to prevent conviction?

I find such a statement dangerous to individual liberty in this country."

I think your quarrel is with him, not me.
8.26.2009 2:24pm
loki13 (mail):

But if he doesn't urge his client to go talk to Bo, is he not "doing as little as possible"?


Short answer- no. Lawyers shall not elicit perjury in front of a tribunal. Period. There are some complicated rules that I learned back in law school for a criminal defendant that demands that they testify on their own behalf due to the Constitution (I believe the lawyer has to let him, but cannot ask any questions- testimonial, which is a tip off to the court- if someone more recent criminal experience wants to step in, feel free), but as a general matter, you cannot.

Again, there is a difference between what you understand lawyers to be allowed to do and what they can do. Advocating zealously does not allow you to lie your a$$ off.
8.26.2009 2:28pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):

Again, there is a difference between what you understand lawyers to be allowed to do and what they can do.


I don't know where you get your understanding of what I understand. I am asking questions and responding to people telling me what their understanding is. See here and here.
8.26.2009 2:39pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Laura:


Suppose that a man doesnt't want to be married anymore, comes home one evening, waits till his wife is asleep, strangles her, and then gets up the next morning and goes to work. He is arrested by the police and you are his defense attorney.

"Where were you that evening?" you ask.

"I was at home killing my wife," he says. "But I can get Bo to say I was with him that evening and spent the night at his place. Bo's drunk half the time anyway - if I tell him I was with him he'll think I was. Want me to talk to Bo?"

What do you do?


Well the lawyer here can do the following things:
1) Try to get evidence thrown out.
2) Try to get the jury to doubt any other evidence allowed in court
3) Tell the jury that the evidence leaves reasonable doubt that the guy is guilty.
4) If the guy is black and the PD has a history of racist statements, state that he might be being railroaded on account of his race, and that the police can't be trusted here. Why, maybe they framed him!

What the lawyer cannot do is:
1) Ask Bo to testify.
2) Ask the accused to testify and ask where he was.

The lawyer can thus offer an extremely vigorous defence aiming to impeach every witness and piece of evidence.

Each of these things that the lawyer can do would be considered dishonest in other contexts after all, he knows his client is guilty and his job is to make sure the jury has some reasonable doubt if possible that this is the case. If this can be done within the rules, great. But it can't be done by soliciting perjury because at that point, there is no basis in fact anymore.

This is why I say one has to be careful about using the word "dishonest" in an adversarial process.
8.26.2009 2:57pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Laura:

Is number 4 on my list of what a lawyer could do a bald-faced lie?
8.26.2009 2:58pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
Does your hypothetical PD have a history of racist statements?
8.26.2009 3:12pm
Curious Passerby (mail):
Oops, I meant Jonathan Swift, not John Stuart Mill...
8.26.2009 3:25pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Laura:

Accept the idea that it does. Anyway the lawyer (who knows his client is guilty) is playing on other facts to sow doubt as to the guilt in the minds of the jury. At what point do you see bald-faced lying appearing?
8.26.2009 3:36pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
The bald-faced lying would occur if the lawyer asserted that the PD had a history of racism when it did not, and produced some bogus documentation to prove it.
8.26.2009 3:46pm
Ice Nine:
When they are asked how they could possibly do anything in their imaginations (read - lie, fabricate or confabulate) to get heinous, patently guilty clients "off", I'm always amused when lawyers pontificate righteously about the nobility of what they do "because everyone is guaranteed a right to legal representation." Yeah, OK, that's true. As it happens, there is another profession in which the practitioners will, for pay, do anything you ask them to do; it is the oldest profession in the world.

In both cases, the professional practitioners are simply, for a price, providing a 'critical' service that fulfills a fundamental need. But in both cases, - and here's the thing - most people are morally unable to do those kinds of things. I guess we can be glad that there exist those who aren't unable, repugnant as that is. But don't, please, be confused about why they garner no respect.
8.26.2009 4:01pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
But let me back away just a bit.

If the lawyer, knowing that his client strangled his wife, brings in the possibility of the cops framing him with no reason to think they really did, he has gone beyond making sure his client's rights are preserved and is actively trying to get him acquitted.

Somebody asked me if I thought accused child molesters did not deserve legal representation. I see a bait-and-switch going on here. If I say, yes, of course they are entitled to an attorney, then evidently I have to accept that that attorney not only makes sure the client isn't railroaded, but comes up with random crap to tell the jury, to try to get him acquitted. If I don't want the attorney to knowingly try his damndest to get this guy back out on the street where he's victimizing somebody else, then I am not wanting him to get his legal representation and due process of law.
8.26.2009 4:06pm
Buford Gooch (mail):
I didn't have time to read all of the comments. One main reason lawyers are held in low esteem is because they use arcane language most of the rest of us don't understand. This makes it seem like they are trying to bamboozle us. Another reason is that lawyers seem to be the proximate cause of the huge amount of laws (and their complexity) that we have to deal with in our lives.
8.26.2009 5:08pm
Curious Passerby (mail):
This is partially off topic, but which ridiculous lawsuit caused all car mirrors to need to say "OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR"?
8.26.2009 5:29pm
traveler496:
Didn't read the whole thread, but in case this hasn't come up, the (admittedly unsurprising) fact that judges are apparently biased toward the legal profession can't help matters.
8.26.2009 6:34pm
John Moore (www):
Most lawyers I have worked with have been fine people - in fact, I've never run into a slime-ball or one who was incompetent.

Furthermore, lots of things laymen complain about turn out to be logically necessary, if one accepts the basic premises of our system - adversarial justice, precedent, etc.

Even so, I hold the consequences of the legal profession in high contempt. Lawyers collectively are responsible for many ills that few lawyers individually cause.

These include:

Winner pays his own legal fees

Defensive medicine

Class action lawsuits which enrich lawyers to the detriment of everyone else (I get included in these regularly due to small amounts of stock I have held or hold in various companies, which are always getting sued for this and that).

Abuse of the legal system that goes unchecked - such as threats of baseless lawsuits to coerce payoffs (as happened to a relative of mine last week). Other examples include the tobacco lawsuit "lawyer stimulus", extremely fraudulent asbestos litigation, and the silicon breast implant litigation that has mad other important silicon medical devices no longer available.

The legalization of almost everything. Warnings all over ladders, the afore-mentioned rear window warnings, etc, etc.
8.26.2009 9:02pm
Linus (mail):
Wait, so,there's no need for defendants that "everyone knows" are guilty to have the same defense as other defendants, because not guilty is not the same as "didn't do it"? Therefore, for defendants that we "just know" DID do it, it's a bad thing if anyone defends them, and tries to get the "not guilty." Yeah, that's not a philosophy ripe for abuse.


I'm always amused when lawyers pontificate righteously about the nobility of what they do "because everyone is guaranteed a right to legal representation." Yeah, OK, that's true. As it happens, there is another profession in which the practitioners will, for pay, do anything you ask them to do; it is the oldest profession in the world.
There may be some attorneys who will, for pay, do anything you ask them to do, just as there are some contractors, and some engineers and some chefs, that will, for pay, do anything you ask them to do. But acting like this is a built in part of the job is just plain ignorant. And, as someone pointed out above, believing, because one lawyer will defend you and another will prosecute you, that they are acting inconsistent, well, the logic boggles the mind.

I'm a little surprised by the vehemence with which people seem to hate the law itself. Well, actually, that doesn't surprise me so much as the number of people who believe that gosh, if only there were no lawyers, we wouldn't have any of those pesky laws, and it'd be pink unicorns and puppies all day long.
8.26.2009 11:23pm
Econ_Scott:
In order to prove that he just likes to throw a "T_rd in the Punchbowl" and leave the room, and Never read the comments nor respond

ORIN KERR IS AN INTERNET TROLL.

PROVE ME WRONG, YOU TROLL.
8.27.2009 3:54am
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):

Linus (mail):
Wait, so,there's no need for defendants that "everyone knows" are guilty to have the same defense as other defendants, because not guilty is not the same as "didn't do it"?


Linus, could you point to a single comment in this entire thread that states what you just said?
8.27.2009 7:23am
David M. Nieporent (www):
If the lawyer, knowing that his client strangled his wife, brings in the possibility of the cops framing him with no reason to think they really did, he has gone beyond making sure his client's rights are preserved and is actively trying to get him acquitted.
Laura, lawyers don't get to "bring in" things without evidence.
8.27.2009 1:05pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):

4) If the guy is black and the PD has a history of racist statements, state that he might be being railroaded on account of his race, and that the police can't be trusted here. Why, maybe they framed him!


Can't do this? I'm pleased to hear it.
8.27.2009 2:03pm
Alasdair (mail):
In general one should look at the system lawyers work within. The system is adversarial and zero-sum (I win, you lose). Also what can and can't be said in court is defined by a narrow set of rules and regulations. Whereas those outside the process and unconstrained by these rules see the big picture, and are mystified as to why this is not taken into account. Generally the courts especially in civil cases can offer one thing, money, as compensation. Which according to good research is not always, if hardly ever what the plaintiff really seeks, Tamara Relis has written an excellent paper on this http://papers.ssrn.comsol3papers.cfm?abstract_id=909522
This leaves "once only" users of the court dissatisfied and upset........... who to blame? ........ Lawyers, not eally, the system is ill suited to meeting expectations of the users, and the profession is resistant to change. Methods of resolving disputes are continually evolving. Once we had blood feuds, replaced by dueling, then replaced by courts. Of course these things ran concurrently for a while, sometimes many years, but eventually the improvement took over. Eventually courts will be for a large part superseded, but until then, because the system takes the causes of a personal ideal of justice and institutionalizes it there will always be failures and dissatisfaction. It is also likely that the new dispute resolvers whoever or whatever they are will be the subject of discontent for the same reason . Afterall the complaint about lawyers is not new read Bleak House by Charles Dickens
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bleak_House
8.31.2009 6:48am
Legal Eagle (mail) (www):
Have written my own post on this from the perspective of an Australian lawyer.
9.2.2009 8:39pm

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