Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oh, He's A Lawyer

My friend Dr. Ralph (in a somewhat bizarre context), has asked why people often say "well, he's a lawyer" or "she has a law degree", as if that gave moral authority to the argument opposed by the attorney in question.

Do people ever say "well, he's a bricklayer" when they're trying to discredit a bricklayer's argument?

Then, there are the lawyer jokes. And the Shakespeare quote, often seen on bumperstickers: "First, let's kill all the lawyers".

I've actually given this some serious thought. A functioning court system for the enforcement of contracts is a vital part of any free market/capitalist system. It doesn't work without lawyers.

Attorneys are alone (I think) in being required to work a certain number of hours per year for those who ordinarily couldn't afford the services of an attorney.

Several years ago, we had problems with an alcoholic neighbor. We complained to the police. The neighbor pressed charges against us. We had friends in a downtown law firm who represented us at no charge. They just liked us. They liked my wife.

Blah, blah, blah. So here's where lawyers get a bad rap. I work in the shipping, freight and logistics industry, and therefore I'm qualified to comment on these issues:

1) Every lawsuit, criminal trial, or custody hearing has a winner and a loser. Both sides are represented by lawyers. The loser generally comes away from the event with a white-hot hatred of the victorious attorney. This doesn't go away.

2) Whether this is an accurate stereotype or not, lawyers are perceived as being mercenary. They'll argue side A or side B, depending on who is paying the tab.

3) We often elect lawyers to public office. This gives them the opportunity to write laws. These laws are often written to guarantee business for....lawyers.

4) The United States is one of the few nations that allows lawyers to charge a percentage of the plunder, rather than a flat rate. This makes for some staggering paydays.

5) Hillary Clinton has a law degree.

6) I used to manage a retail establishment on Camp Bowie in Fort Worth. We closed every night at 9:00. One night around 9:10 p.m., a drunk lawyer started banging on the windows, wanting inside. We explained that we were closed. He explained that he was a lawyer, and that he wanted inside. It deteriorated from there. He slid his business card between the doors, and told us we'd be hearing from him in court.
I called his mega-law firm (where he was a junior scribe or something) every day for about a week, asking if I was going to be sued. I enjoyed it more than I should have. Not my finest moment.
But I wouldn't remember the incident if the guy had been a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker.

That's my take on the problem. I could be wrong.


Dr Ralph said...

WS -- I think your analysis is spot on (loved the picture, by the way!). With your indulgence, I'll add a couple of observations (I've been working from home - can you tell?).

-- Laws by their nature restrict and regulate human behavior. This will piss off some people. There will not be agreement among the governed as to what is necessary and unnecessary interference in their behavior.

-- It is the job of lawyers to be intimately involved in legal issues, which often places them in the center of conflict. They write laws, good and bad, argue cases, and in some cases overturn laws, both popular and unpopular.

-- As you pointed out, we tend to only remember the lawyers that fight against us, not the one who fought for us.

-- The legal profession has a reputation of being lucrative, which probably attracts a higher percentage of a certain type of person than it might otherwise. These would be mercenary pricks no matter what profession they chose. In a way, we should be thankful they're lawyers.

-- There are also a lot of lawyers who are not mercenary blowhards: people working in storefront legal clinics, helping folks on the low end of the economic yardstick. The pay is squat. We don't hear about these people.

-- Reporting of some court cases often omits key facts, in the interest of sensationalism or pushing an agenda. The classic case here is the McDonald's coffee lawsuit, which is often held up as an example of legal foolishness. The real facts of the case are often overlooked by those with an axe to grind.

With that, I'll leave with a (true) story.

A friend was getting a divorce. He asked a mutual acquaintance who'd recently gone through a divorce for the name of an attorney he'd recommend. The acquaintance gave him a name and my friend asked if this was his attorney. The acquaintance grimaced and said, "No, that was my ex-wife's attorney."

sandersonmom said...

Ok, not that I could even come close to expressing myself so fluidly as you two do. But I do have to put my two cents in.
I would like to know just how 'lawyer' got to be a profession and at what point did they start to get a bad rap?
I personally have had bad experiences with lawyers. I was unfortunate enough to have been through a very emotional lawsuit in which my parents were sued due to 'putting a waitress emotional distress' because I had a seizure in a restaurant was she came through the kitchen with a pot of hot coffee and hit me over the head with it, resulting in 2nd & 3rd degree burns on the upper 50% of my body. Face included. But she claimed emotional distress...
HOWEVER, she won the case stating that I was running in the restaurant. Total lie. But the lawyer for that waitress really had a story going, and the jury believed them.
So do we blame the lawyer or the jury? The waitress or the 5 year old having a seizure?

Dr Ralph said...

sandersonmom :

According to Wikipedia, the ancient Romans gave us the Legal Profession. Somehow that comes as no surprise. The article is pretty interesting (if you can believe Wikipedia) and notes that public dislike of the legal profession is not a modern phenomena.

As for the nightmare you were involved with, the lion's share of the blame should be (in my non-legal opinion) assigned to the waitress. She's the one who sued your parents. The lawyer did what he or she was hired to do--represent the waitress's interests. I'd certainly want any attorney I hired to do the best possible job representing me.

If there's any blame left over, assign it to the jury, for being lazy, inattentive, or just plain stupid. Unfortunately, because so few people are willing to serve on juries, this is a problem that is unlikely to go away anytime soon.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

The current trend is to blame everything on Sandersonmom.
This includes things that happened when she was five.

Dr Ralph said...

I blame the Terrorists.

sandersonmom said...

Somebody has to take responsibility for things, right? Why not blame the 5 year old...
Sensei, you are absolutely correct. It's ok to blame me, I'm used to it.