A recently released Gallup survey indicates that only 25% of Americans view lawyers favorably. The public likes lawyers even less than they do banking, the airline industries, and the federal government, none of which is particularly popular these days.
I hear this reflected in conversations with prospective and current mediation clients, who view lawyers with suspicion. Among the comments I’ve heard lately are these:
- Lawyers will just screw everything up.
- They’ll deplete all our assets and leave nothing for our family.
- Lawyers only make things worse.
- Lawyers? In my experience, they’re happy to take your money, not your phone calls.
Here’s what one caller said on learning about collaborative law:
- Lawyers collaborate? Sorry for being blunt, but, yeah, when pigs fly.
Their reason for distrusting lawyers so much?
They see them as creating problems, not solving them.
I fear that some readers may believe that I wrote this post in gleeful delight, a mediator taking grim pleasure in diminishing public confidence in lawyers. But this post wasn’t motivated by schadenfreude. Instead, it was intended as wake-up call for my brothers and sisters at the bar.
These statements about lawyers pain me deeply. I’m an attorney myself, and proud to be one, and it hurts to hear them.
Countless attorneys every day do good work for their clients. The great majority of those who practice law are honorable, decent, hard-working people who take their oaths seriously and serve their clients with integrity and competent professionalism. The many attorneys I know personally are the kind of lawyers Atticus Finch would have been proud of.
What troubles me is the increasing number of people who are reporting to me frustrations with lawyers, and the number of people who complain about poor services from their lawyers – lawyers who fail to return calls, who fail to keep clients informed, who treat clients with paternalism not as intelligent adults. I recently spoke with one CEO who complained that his lawyers ignored his explicit wishes and ended up costing him a critical business relationship by escalating and not ameliorating a dispute. I hear these stories with increasing frequency.
For a long time I chalked these gripes up to a few bad apples or even simply urban legend, but these complaints are not going away. My sense now is that there’s a real problem out there. I think these concerns merit our attention and must be treated seriously, and not dismissed as isolated expressions of dissatisfaction by a few uninformed cranks. I do what I can to correct these misperceptions, but this requires a widespread collective effort. We need the efforts of the bar, the judiciary, the legal academy, and bar associations. We need to root out their causes and vanquish them. There’s much at stake – we need the full confidence of the public in the law, its institutions, and its servants.