Lawyering Askew: Excesses in the Pursuit of Fees and Justice
54 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2008
Date Written: 1994
Lawyer-bashing in America has long been a national pastime, having somehow escaped the palliative of political correctness that has greatly diminished other scurrilous pursuits like Jewish-American-Princess-baiting and Polish-joking.
Much of the profession's negative image can be ascribed to the sheer number of people hanging out their shingles as attorneys at law - just about as many per capita as there are inmates currently serving time in all the state prisons. Lawyers are likewise chastised for the hard-sell hucksterism of their advertising, the exponential growth of their caseloads, and the endless upward spiral of their fee scales. No doubt such perceptions, largely incontrovertible to begin with, are reinforced by the nature of the adversarial process itself, especially as it is practiced in the United States. And perceptions being reality, it can well be argued that much of the criticism leveled at the bar is richly deserved.
Thus it's little wonder that so many of the spectators - laymen and lackeys alike - are so quick to quote Shakespeare: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers!" Read in proper context, however, that oft-quoted line from The Second Part of King Henry the Sixth is in fact part of a colloquy between two ne'er-do-wells plotting to overthrow the government; clearly implicit for Shakespeare was that, without law (and lawyers), there would be anarchy. Indeed denigrating the integrity of the legal profession has itself become a glib excess.
The average American today is hard-put to acknowledge the conscientious attorney who may serve useful, important, or necessary purposes. To the contrary, the public seems to see lawyers as inherently less ethical than doctors, plumbers, or bureaucrats - and attributes to them a failure of compassion and morality that is probably more a trait of their profession than of their individual character or upbringing.
Is it possible to be both a good lawyer and, as the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct ("Model Rules") require, a "public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice"?
From any vantage point, one thing is clear: Members of the bar must come to grips with the need to educate the public better about what they do and why they do it. While the adversarial system by its very nature generates hostile feelings, the indictments of the way lawyers practice their profession are in many respects justified, and will not be easily dismissed.
The evidence is in, and the burden of proof is theirs.
Keywords: legal profession, public perception, lawyer jokes, lawyer-bashing
JEL Classification: K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation