I know, right? It’s a take on an old lawyer joke. That oughtta attract some troll traffic. But I just can’t help it. All of the online negativity in general, and that directed at lawyers specifically, is beginning to get to me. I’ll have more on the general negativity later, but for now let’s look at the lawyer stuff.
If you have followed these posts you will have noticed that I dropped out of sight for a while, since July 8th to be precise, which was when one of my last posts was buffered to hit the airwaves… precisely as my cardiac surgeon was busy cracking my chest wide open so he could stop my heart, hand my life functions off to a machine and hack away at my innards. You think I was about to make any surgeon jokes right about then? No way. My life was in his hands, literally.
Then why is it that everyone takes such glee in ridiculing, criticizing, and mocking lawyers? People put their lives in the hands of their lawyers. In reality most lawyers deserve the ridicule about as much as my excellent surgeon would have… not at all. Of course there are good lawyers and bad lawyers, just as there are good surgeons and bad surgeons… or butchers, or bakers, or candlestick makers.
One thing my ‘near death experience’ taught me was to appreciate what we have. Even if that includes lawyers. See? Even I can’t resist telling a lawyer joke, like the ones Shakespeare used to tell in his plays, like: “First thing we do let’s kill all the lawyers.”
Except Shakespeare didn’t actually intend that to be a joke. What Shakespeare meant was that by killing all the lawyers law and order would be destroyed, and the bad guys would be able to take over the government. Law and order was considered to be a good thing, something lawyers helped protect.
Which we do. Every day. We live to do that. Like it or not.
When I was lying there in my hospital bed, after surgery, happy to just be alive, I made the mistake of checking some comments to my latest blog on Facebook. There were some typically brilliant observations from non-lawyers on there. Cavemen-troll grunt sounds like: “F U Mo Fo!” Wow. That guy would never deserve to be made fun of. But the most common cutting comment was along the lines of “There goes another greedy lawyer, out to cheat people out of their money.”
With respect to the claim that lawyers are greedy, it’s true that we like to be paid for working. Most people do. Lawyers, like most people, have bills to pay. It’s hard to do that working entirely for free. That said, I strongly doubt that there is another profession that does as much free volunteer work as lawyers do, with the possible exception of doctors like my brilliant surgeon, Mark Hill at Virginia Mason (who one of the nurses told me took on charity cases). Bar Associations even have official programs that recognize lawyers who perform substantial free legal work by placing them on an “Honor Roll” and handing out annual awards. I strongly doubt that many other professions place such a strong emphasis on working for free.
What about ethics? People have NO idea. Over the past thirty-three years of practicing law, I can honestly say that scarcely a week has gone by when I have not carefully reviewed some sort of ethical quandary, usually by discussing it with other concerned lawyers in my office. We have a huge set of complicated ethical rules. If we make a mistake we can have our licenses to practice revoked. Again, can you imagine other professions with those sorts of detailed guidelines?
Take realtors for example. No offense, but in my experience they will say just about anything to make a sale. At which point, by the way, they stand to make thousands of dollars for doing just a few short hours of work. I don’t mean to pick on realtors. Ever look at what bankers do to make a buck? How they play with people’s money and never seem to be held accountable for whatever happens with it? Or financial planners? They make money even when they lose all of yours.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that these things can be said of lawyers too. But when is the last time you heard a funny realtor or financial planner joke? This is my point.
Lawyers simply do not deserve all of the “neggy treatment” they get. It’s not just that it’s unfair; it’s not accurate. Lawyers, on the whole, are some of the most conscientious, trustworthy, dedicated, hardworking, morally correct people on the planet. I can’t tell you how many nights I have laid awake, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep because I was so worried about making sure I was taking care of my clients. And money had nothing to do with it, even if I was being paid. It was simply because I wanted to make sure that I lived up to what my clients needed and expected from me. It is not something we lawyers take lightly, believe me.
I know this because some (most actually) of my best friends are lawyers; it comes with the territory. We go through intense schooling together, work together, fight together and hang out together. And I can’t tell you how many times I have heard them talk about how worried they were about their clients, or doing a good job in court, or obsessing over a potential ethical issue. It’s what dominates every minute of our lives.
I know not everyone will believe this. But, trust me, it’s true. Get it? Trust me? I’m a lawyer so that must be a joke. But it’s no joke. We take our jobs, and the welfare of our clients, very seriously. Deadly seriously, even if we don’t do open heart surgery.
So the next time you need help from a lawyer, remember that. Chances are extremely high that you will have a dedicated, competent, hard-working professional in your corner. It’s what we do.