Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hate Lawyers?

Just stumbled on an article by Andrew Fischer on It's one of those "hate lawyers" stories. Normally I like what I see on that site, and I'd probably agree with a lot of Fischer's other articles, but I have to rip this one apart. Quotes from the article are in italics.

I had three college chums who ... decided to become lawyers simply because it was a way to "make a good living." This says a lot: they had no interest in law whatsoever, no craving for "justice" in either a practical or abstract sense – just a desire to make money. ... Like it or not – and I didn't – my friends were motivated solely by a desire to obtain massive amounts of legal tender. Thirty-odd years later, there's no doubt that they've achieved their goal.

This will be a continuing theme in my critique, but Mr. Fischer seems to be out of touch with the world. First, plenty of college students consider income potential when choosing a career path. Not to mention that there's a lot of 22-year-olds who don't know what they wanna be when they grow up yet. And there are lots of other ways to make a good living. Does Fischer hate actuaries, plastic surgeons and chiropractors?

Second, I've met many law students and lawyers who are not focused on money. This is a good thing, because ...

Third: Getting a law degree is no guarantee of riches. Lots of lawyers struggle. I remember doing a trial years ago. A prospective juror made a nasty comment about lawyers. The lawyer on the other side and I were talking afterward and he said: "If only we made as much money as they think we make." Some lawyers do well, and some don't.

Well, Mr. Fischer actually went to law school himself:

I quickly discovered that my fellow law students were far more interested in becoming lawyers than I was. ... As had been the case with my buddies, their motivation was a craving for "career" rather than justice. I recall being shocked when I ... found that the most important things on Earth to some of my fellow "justice-seekers" [on a questionnaire] were happiness and friendship, as opposed to what I'd selected from the list: truth and wisdom. (Justice was a close third.)

Um ... Mr. Fischer ... You went to law school but you weren't interested in becoming a lawyer?

And ... oh my ... some of the students felt that happiness and friendship were very important? Those bastards! I also love the irony that these other students are rotten because they didn't put justice first ... and Fischer put that third himself. Nice to wear your hypocrisy on your sleeve.

I politely declined to participate when called upon in contracts class. ... I immediately found myself in a petty power struggle with my arrogant and condescending professor, and facing swift expulsion from his little kingdom. Apparently "academic freedom" applied to the faculty but not the students, since my professor was permitted to expel me from his course for any violation of his rules, no matter how absurd.

I'm just picturing how it must go in med school when a student refuses to follow a professor's direction. I've actually represented med students and residents who crossed faculty members. It ain't pretty.

The dean was obviously nothing but a political animal, a glad-handing prevaricator who smiled out of every corner and cranny of his mouth. My professor was a pompous jerk who was concerned about absolutely nothing but winning our altercation. My other professors couldn't have cared less about the entire brouhaha. "These are people I'm supposed to look up to?" I thought. "This is what it means to be a lawyer?"

Aside from the excessive caricaturing, that is what it means to get through law school. Being a lawyer is something entirely different. If you had been paying attention, you would have noticed that most of your law professors were not working as lawyers. They were teachers. And most probably wrote articles too. Some of them worked as lawyers at some point in their lives, but few did that for long.

Being a lawyer is fundamentally about something that never occurred to Mr. Fischer. We help people. They come to us with problems and sometimes we can make things better for them.

Maybe it's something simple like a speeding ticket; they've been accused of a crime; they just found out their spouse is having an affair; they're having problems paying their mortgage and are about to lose their house; they were hurt in an accident, can't work, and are having trouble paying their bills; they want to open a business and can't figure out the town zoning code; they're being audited; they need a visa so they can stay in the US and keep working; they want to buy a house and don't want to get screwed in the transaction; the DMV wants to take their drivers license away for no good reason; the government wants to take their house by eminent domain to put up a shopping mall; ...

There are so many problems people have that lead them to seek legal counsel. Ultimately that's what we do. Lawyers help people.

Are we rewarded for it? Most of us get paid, some of us well, others not nearly enough. Last time I checked, most people work for money. Every time I go to doctors they expect to be paid. I pay them happily. I value their help. Most of our clients seem to value what we do for them.

While I'm doing well financially and I appreciate the money, the real satisfaction comes when you've helped someone. My favorite moments as a lawyer have been when I get a client out of jail. The best day of my career was when I got two clients out of jail on the same day. They didn't teach that to Mr. Fischer in law school. Or maybe he wasn't paying attention.

There is a reason why people hate lawyers. In much of what we do, there's a lawyer on the other side. Our clients tend not to like that other lawyer. That lawyer's client tends to dislike us. It's natural - we're on opposing sides. The victim in a criminal case might hate the defense lawyer. The defendant sure isn't going to like the prosecutor. In half the relationships between lawyers and non-lawyers, the non-lawyer has good reason to dislike the lawyer.

Imagine if it worked like that with doctors. One doctor tries to heal you while the other tries to make you sicker. How popular would doctors be then?
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