This article is about why people don’t like lawyers. It has been inspired by a post at the Volokh Conspiracy which explores the same issue.
Orin Kerr cites two reasons why people don’t like lawyers, which can be summarised as follows:
- lawyers are seen as a “closed shop” who operate to protect themselves; and
- lawyers represent nasty and unpleasant human beings in controversial disputes.
There’s a long, long comment thread in which various people go into a lot of detail as to exactly why they don’t like lawyers as well.
Actually, many of the reasons why people don’t like lawyers overlap with the reasons why lawyers don’t like themselves very much. One of the causes of depression in lawyers is the contempt with which they are viewed by the public.
I think there are a few reasons why no one loves a lawyer:
- People only go to see a lawyer when they are in trouble (so lawyers have this whiff of trouble following them around to begin with).
- Lawyers are expensive, and they have those six-minute billing units which really get up people’s noses. People also are suspicious of paying for something abstract like legal representation. It’s not like you get something concrete (compared with hiring a builder, where at least you get a house in the end).
- As Kerr says, lawyers flock together. Notice, for example, that the only professional in Australia who is not liable for professional negligence is the barrister, as decided by a bench of judges made up of … yes, mostly ex-barristers. That kind of decision does not do us any favours.
- Lawyers use complicated jargon which sounds annoying and makes people feel excluded from the legal system.
- By their very nature, the people who are attracted to law are generally adversarial. I include myself among this number. Adversarial people have a tendency to argue and rub people up the wrong way. (I also admit that I might do this occasionally).
- Some lawyers are arrogant. They think that because they know the law, they have the right to tell everyone else how to behave, or that they are better than other people. They use the law to bully others.
- And then the biggie, which is admirably covered by Kerr, is what I have called the “defending the indefensible” point, also dealt with in my post “The Mad, The Bad and The Sad” (which should be sub-titled “Why I don’t tell taxi drivers I’m a lawyer any more“). Lawyers defend other human beings whom the general public considers as objectionable. Or they prosecute actions which the general public may consider objectionable.
What can lawyers do about the fact that nobody loves them?
Some reform to the charging system would be one way of making clients more satisfied. Indeed, in this tightening financial situation, I gather that some firms have been forced by clients to drop the six-minute billing unit. People really resent paying a lawyer when they discover they paid $36 for that four-minute phone conversation. I think I’d be pretty peeved too - I’d want to be sure that it was a significant four-minute phone conversation.
Lawyers can also try to explain the law to other people and to demystify it, rather than wrapping it up in jargon. That is part of the reason why I blog - I really want to start a dialogue with people about the law, and help them learn about issues which they might not otherwise have known. I think lawyers need to learn the KISS principle sometimes. Making something twice as long as it ought to be and putting in rare and arcane words just for the sake of it is not what the law should be about. The law is about communicating with other people, either to prevent disputes from arising in the first place or to resolve disputes once they have arisen.
I think also people dislike the law when they see it being used to grind people down - for example, when a big firm tries to grind down an individual by throwing millions of discoverable documents at them in the hope of driving up the individual’s legal costs and forcing them to drop their action. As I’ve said previously, I think part of a good lawyer’s job is to talk the client out of actions like this. I don’t think that’s how the law should be used. “Rambo litigation” is also bad for lawyers themselves, and has been identified as a major cause of depression and dissatisfaction.
When I used to repossess houses for banks, I tried to behave in a way which was as humane as possible, because I do not think I could have lived with myself if I had done otherwise. Interestingly, I think I succeeded in making a number of settlements precisely because I tried to be decent to defendants. People are more willing to be reasonable if you are reasonable with them. There’s a time and place for aggression, for sure, but it’s not something that should be “switched on” all the time. So we have to sometimes watch our adversarial instincts - there is a time to fight and a time to put down arms.
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