LawyersDid You Hear The One About

By: Richard A. Hall

• Three partners of a law firm were flying out of town to attend a convention. Halfway through the trip, one of the partners said to the second partner, “Oh no, I forgot to lock the office safe". The third partner quickly responded, “Don’t worry all three of us are here".

• Question – “What’s wrong with telling a lawyer joke"? Answer – “Lawyers don’t think they’re funny and no one else thinks they’re jokes".

• Question – “What do honest attorneys and UFOs have in common"? Answer – “You always heat about them but no one has ever seen one".

Chances are you have heard numerous jokes pertaining to attorneys, and admittedly some are actually funny! However, while some can be taken lightly, others are almost gruesome. The love/hate relationship between attorneys and clients has been going on for a long time. Unfortunately, some attorneys probably deserve to have a joke written about them but most are good, honest, and reputable people trying hard to make a difference in a person’s life and society.

Although there are a number of negative perceptions associated with attorneys, the one that seems to keep hanging on is actually slightly misguided. Much of the public believes that all attorneys squeeze clients dry, charging them for every dime spent, often associated with outlandish lawsuits. Believe it or not there are industry standards and state bar guidelines as to how attorneys charge clients and are paid. The best way to avoid billing surprises is to agree in advance on how and what you are charged for and the expected timelines and outcomes.

The media has played a huge role in our overall perception of lawyers from news reports involving attorneys to attorneys (fictional and reality). If you were to turn on any major news channel, the majority of issues being reported whether they involve attorneys or not are often negative. We don’t hear news stories about attorneys doing their job, but we do hear of the isolated case of bad behavior. Therefore, the public assumes that one story pertaining to a crooked attorney represents all attorneys, which is simply not the case.

We also have the perception that many attorneys are hard nosed sharks. We love to hate this type of attorney but it’s also exactly the kind of representation we want on our side of the bargaining table! In a recent example Nancy Grace accused the mother of a missing child of holding back information. The mother committed suicide shortly after the hard hitting interview and the family partly blamed Grace. While Grace may have doggedly sought the truth, it’s unlikely that her decided lack of sympathy caused the woman’s death. The public was horrified at the behavior, and yet if you needed legal representation, would you want someone unsympathetic to the other side? Someone who would aggressively pursue justice on your behalf?

Herein lies the crux of our love-hate relationship. Divorcing couples provide a window into this dichotomy. In divorce cases where there is a large amount of money involved, someone walks away as the “winner" and the other party is the “loser." We typically hear of the hard hitting, nasty divorce attorney who won a huge settlement. The client is perfectly happy with their attorney and refers him/her to friends and colleagues. However, the opposing party reviles the lawyer and their entire profession. So the truth may be that we only hate lawyers when they are not our own!

The reality is that there are bad lawyers but there may be more bad people. Attorneys have the moral and legal responsibility of being fair and honest, but potential clients have a responsibility in doing their homework before hiring an attorney, as well as being wise about when to and when not to sue.

Often we turn to the legal profession to mediate petty disputes which are better resolved outside of court. For instance, a coach of a youth baseball league in Brunswick, Ohio ended the season with a 0 to 15 record. Soon after the season ended, the coach, who a volunteer, was served a summons advising he was being sued for $2,000 by the catcher’s father. The crux of the lawsuit was that the coach was incompetent and the father wanted his money back for a trip taken by the team.

The challenge lies in the fact that legally, people can sue for just about anything, even silly, frivolous issues. We have seen lawsuits against fast food makers for making people obese, families suing one another over small dollar amounts and countless other lawsuits over any and everything. While most people are responsible, working through disputes without the court, we see some individuals who have become “sue happy". To make the issue worse, you have attorneys who see this as a way of making a quick buck by taking on these types of cases, which has resulted in the ever-growing list of jokes. Will the teasing ever stop? Probably not - but many reputable law firms and single-practicing attorneys are taking steps to change or improve public opinion. While you may not see attorneys baking cookies for their clients any time soon, we may just begin to see a few more positive stories about the profession.

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