Aug 08 2011

Why People Hate Lawyers (but shouldn’t)

Its a question I often pose to my law students, normally near the end of the semester: Why do people hate lawyers? I ask it for a number of reasons but mainly to help them have answers for people’s common gripes about lawyers that they will hear at bars, nightclubs, parties, PTA meetings, post offices, everywhere. It’s also to make them think about their chosen profession and its place in the world.  It’s to make them realize the negative stereotypes about the legal profession and make them try to avoid the cliches that have attached themselves to law.

So I thought I would put down what I think are the most common reasons why the public hates lawyers and give  a bit of defense to the legal profession.

1.  Lawyers are obnoxious and think they know everything

Well, some are more obnoxious than others for sure, and many are a bunch of know-it-alls.  Most of the lawyers I know however are not like this, so where does the stereotype come from? Law attracts many people who like to argue and voice their opinions.  These are not shy wallflower types.  They are aggressive and expressive, a bad combination.  And lets face it, you have to have some intelligence to get into and through law school, so they also have a base of knowledge they can call upon. We are also trained to argue and therefore when we get into a discussion, the more obnoxious of us may want to prove their knowledge or their perceived skill in argument by nit-picking and arguing to death (see point 4 below).  Certainly, a few interactions with this type of lawyer would turn anyone off to the entire profession. Because they are loud, attention seeking folks, they tend to be more noticeable than the average lawyer. Also, it is more fun to present this type of lawyer in the media, so the stereotype gets repeated in TV shows and movies.

2. Lawyers will do anything to win a case, even lie in court.

Simply not true, but understandable how the public can see things this way. Lawyers represent one side of a case and are therefore not going to be liked by the other side.  They are paid specifically to try and win. Often they are told things by their clients which may be false or which stretch the truth but which they lawyer accepts because he has no proof of its falsity. So a cautious lawyer may state in court, “According to my investigation . .. ” or something along those lines before uttering the alleged fact in open court. The other side, knowing that the facts contained in the statement are false, will attribute it to the lawyer lying. A lawyer may put a particular spin on facts that may seem to the other side as being a lie. For example, if a husband is late in picking up his children on his custody day three times out of the last twenty times, his lawyer may say that his client has “an excellent track record” in his custodial obligations. His wife’s lawyer may say that “he has been repeatedly late in picking the children up.” Each one will accuse the other of being a “lying snake” but its a matter of opinion as to how the record is perceived. To be perfectly accurate, one should say that the husband was late 15% of the time and let a judge determine if that is a good or poor performance record, but that’s not how litigation works unfortunately. Each side must zealously represent their client’s position as long as the argument does not fly in the face of reason. But to lay people, this “spinning of the facts” or careful use of words is labeled as “lying.”
3. Lawyers are too expensive
Legal fees can be daunting, that’s for sure. The more experienced an attorney might be, the more it will likely cost to retain them. But the price of fees is not the only reason why people think lawyers are too expensive; after all, doctors charge much more, heck even plumbers charge more than some lawyers do for their hourly services. Its that when you pay a lawyer, you often don’t get a product you can hold in your hand. In fact, when people engage a lawyer for a process that results in a tangible result -a will, a trust, or a closing where you get a deed- they are much less likely to complain about the fees. But for litigation clients, paying a lawyer often produces the result that the client thought they should get anyway.When you get a criminal charge reduced or dismissed, most clients feel that this was the only possible outcome anyway. Its frustrating to pay for four hours of legal time in court when three of them were spent just waiting around for the judge to call your case. In most cases, you are not entitled to get your legal fees back when you win, so when you sue for $50,000 and recover $50,000 your $15,000 in legal fees reduces your recovery to $35,000 and there is no satisfaction. Again, most people do not complain about legal fees for cases on a contingency basis because they know going in that 33% of their recovery will go to the lawyer so when they settle they know what the net result to them is going to be. Similarly, in fee shifting cases, like fair wage lawsuits for example, no one complains about fees when they are coming out of the other guy’s pocket. “A lawyer’s time is his stock in trade,” Abraham Lincoln said and he was right. Our training costs a lot of money. Our early years in practice we are usually making money for someone else. All we have to sell is our time and its hard for non-lawyers to understand that there are only so many hours in day that one can put in so we have to get properly paid for the time we have. Its not like we can have a website where our product is sold 24/7 without our involvement.
4. Lawyers nitpick every single word you say
Again, probably true. But that’s because we work with words. Every word in the documents or cases we deal with has importance. IF a law says that you must prove five elements before you can succeed on a particular claim, it does not matter that you easily meet four of them; without the fifth one you lose. If the law contains precise language about the type of conduct that is being regulated, if the conduct doesn’t exactly meet the words of the regulation, then there is no violation. Now, its hard sometimes for lawyers to turn off that mind set in daily non-legal conversations. So when people misspeak or don’t do exactly what they said they were going to do, the lawyers in the room may point that out. Sure its obnoxious (see item 1) but its reflex, sometimes we can’t help it. Many times, people will have a deal they are anxious to get done and the lawyers end up fighting over one particular clause because they see potential trouble down the road. Sometimes, these differences result in the deal falling through. Hence the phrase “We had a great deal until the lawyers got involved.” No one bothers to wonder how great a deal it would have been had that clause come back to haunt them two or three years down the road.We’re not nitpicking, we’re trying to protect you!

5. Lawyering is easy, anyone could do it
Because our work usually involves just talking, negotiating and arguing, there is a misconception that it is easy. Or at least easier than any other profession, like medicine, architecture or accounting. The planning, the persuasion, the nuances are lost on many clients and they are left with the feeling that but for the rules of the Bar, they could have done it themselves. And many sophisticated clients who do the same types of transactions all the time, probably could do routine ones themselves. But identifying which are routine and which are not, and identifying where things may go wrong or what greater advantage a particular deal my bring, is hard for even sophisticated clients to do. There are reasons why better lawyers make a better living. They are more capable, more attuned to the law, more experienced in the good the bad and the ugly that can happen down the road. They are more persuasive, more engaging, better advocates. The reasons that some lawyers have very successful practices and other don’t is because not everyone can do it. It takes a particular skill set and work ethic to be a successful practicing lawyer. You take your work home with you because your brain never stops thinking. When a trial lawyer is on trial, from their first waking moment to when sleep blissfully ends their day, they are thinking about that trial. Whats going to happen to day? What do I have planned? What is my strongest point? When can I have five minutes to call my clients back, etc etc etc. Its mentally exhausting. But all clients see is when you walk into the courtroom, ready to go and you begin your day.

6. In conclusion

So I always tell my students to watch out for these myths and stereotypes and do not engage in behavior that is likely play into the way lawyers are typecast. Choose your words carefully, don’t belabor and argue every point to death, manage your clients expectations as to fees and potential outcomes, be over prepared and diligent so you don’t get caught with your pants down and most of all, keep the lines of communication open with your client. That way when people are at a party and the lawyer-bashing begins, hopefully your client will step up and say,”Maybe your lawyer, but not mine!” And hand out your card.

7 comments

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    • Ben on April 26, 2013 at 6:49 pm
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    Thanks. I really enjoyed this. As a law student myself at King’s College London, and having been accused of many of the above, I fully agree! Thoroughly entertaining yet accurate article!

  1. 3-13-13 Child abuse by design

    Dear Ken ,

    It’s been more than a year since the letter of 2/12/12 and the apparent subsequent closing shortly thereafter of Glass Family Law. I understand he is now not promoting himself as uniquely blended in Psychology and Law but is at another firm doing probate work. Interestingly enough his resume at FMBK Law has claims of credentials I understand you believe are false based upon you direct written response from organizations Mr. Glass claims to be a member or associated with. Who does that reflect upon him or the diligence and propriety of the firm which now employs him?

    It occurred to me that the complete contrast in our cases is almost deafening in the way it shouts hypocrisy, maleficent practices, and flat out perjuries within statements written under penalty of perjury and oral statements within hearings and written statements within submitted briefs screams of the manipulation of parents. This IMHO by attorney’s, the bench and minor’s councils within the family court system in CA at least. Given I was asked to waive my Fifth Amendment Rights in family court? And did so .The issuance of restraining orders on both of us within 3 weeks of my letter of the 12 of February under quote Justice Convey in your instance (“by the slimmest of margins”)one has to wonder at the coincidence…Right? Of course I was judged as having stalked by proxy because I hired a PI to prove my daughter was being housed with a felon (cultivating under a Federal Indictment),,, and the mother knew it.

    Indeed in your instance you were falsely accused of molestation by the mother of your son seven ( 7) times and then of stalking (8th)when the child was too old to falsely accuse the father of abuse .I note your minors council never interviewed your child even though Sammy was ten (10) . In your case no abuse took place yet you were put on monitored visitation and visitation reduced to police station pick-ups permanently. It would seem logical Ken that at some time you become a safe parent. When is that after your four (4th) parenting class? Or after the third 3rd interview with the District Attorney’s Office. How about after the 8th sheriff or 13th DCFS investigations. What grade gives you a pass? Or is it like our friend who ponied up a Million dollars.
    In my case I alleged that the mother was negligent or deliberately sub parenting in a manner as was provocative .Lj was taken to UCLA med center at three & half (3 ½) .and on morphine and intravenous feeding for 6 weeks after the neighbors call the police because they could hear her screaming. I had previously stated the mother did not have the skills or empathy and may have been suffering some mental distress
    .
    Then two (2) years later numerous blood noses (daddy don’t put sunscreen on …its very sore) and Minors counsel accused me of overreacting etc. Yet my daughter now is showing a scar across her nose as her face has grown. Also when the symptoms that caused the first hospitalization reoccurred I took Lj to the Doctor without custodial privileges and was again accused of being alarmist yet the child’s diet was immediately changed by the mother and things improved.
    Not forgetting being accused of 10K in support arrears that the judge threw out as falsified spreadsheet CSSD said I never owed anything. As well as the LCSW saying the Mothers accusation I yelled at our daughter and threw a phone at her was a work of fiction. Perhaps that is why we have a letter from the Bar suggesting we pursue “civil action”.

    Given all this I am the one who is separated and monitored.
    My point is you are not a molester as the DA stated yet you are punished and to the opposite I can prove the mother has been ,may still be or is a least using sub care of my child in a provocative manner where my child may be suffering yet I am punished,. Quote (LCFS,,‘ The Mother is not currently negligent”)
    Really?
    Finally we have our friend who only after paying a million dollars was taken of monitoring, all accusations and interference stopped and can see his children when he wants.

    Here is the situation Given the violence in society killings in families, how much damage has been done to children and women, mothers Fathers parents and extended family by the propagation of this kind of duplicitous behavior within what seems to be a culture of deceit built around self-aggrandizing and financial self-serving that in fact amounts to fiscal abuse of children. What training skills and so on are lost in funneling the parent’s income to third party leeches using false or manipulated circumstances to serve their own interests?
    In my case I spent more than $ 47,072 seeing my daughter for twelve ( 12) hours each month for the last year.
    I kept my second residence in California, (rent) paid child support, Airfare from NY once a month air fare for a weekend from oversees and monitor costs including the monitors meals , go-cart rides, Taxis/transportation , lunches, entertainment, getting around, clothes, toys, books & games and adventures that I as her father are able to spend upon the daughter that I have raised!
    What type of enhanced opportunities could a different approach have made?

    If fathers are the enemy what will mothers become once a more robotic agenda is achieved .They will be phased out as well. Women should consider the short amount of time science is giving them to make the correct adjustments to this situation and police their own ranks from peers lawyers and malevolent individuals who care little for children, and will eventually throw mothers to the wayside in preference of the state. I mean do little girls really need to be born with a womb anymore?

    The societal cost of the emotional and mental anguish to children and subsequent family killings from person caught up in this situations is surely not worth the salaries of a the firms and government agencies who benefit from this culture…>All mothers, children and Fathers are at risk and more so daily as those uneducated to the manner they will be manipulated and have their conflict orchestrated to the fiscal advantage of others.

    My being asked to waive my 5th in family court because a stated somebody was a dead man walking, professionally speaking .It would seem I know what I’m doing as David J. Glass Ph.D. is now hobbled from abusing any more families and a judge who asks me if I wished merry Christmas to a Jewish Lawyer as a hateful gesture seems to be setting me up for something, especially since you had received notices mailed to your residence disclosing that David Glass would be on vacation during the “Christmas holidays”.
    Yet you Ken are a longtime Jewish friend and my father spent weeks in a cattle car on his way to Stalag IVIII in Poland.
    Was it not the Nazis who first separated children from parents?

    And then when I request the transcript from that hearing, I pay for it I and then get not the original but a copy and my money order is handed back to me and no one will say who was given the original?
    Lj says to me at age of 6 when I tell her mom loves her and will always be in her life
    She state’s to me …“She’s going to live a lot; she’s never going to die?”

    What is this child going to hold her mother responsible for and by what means will she do so?
    The enabling of conflict by those who seek to gain financially is simply evil and no different from an arms dealer who supplies both sides .The killing of life be it on an emotional ,intellectual, financial, mental, spiritual and /a or physical level is a death and no different from actually using a mechanical device. Too knowingly do so to children whose spirit is pure is inherently foul.

    To surmise IMHO the individuals and associated firms in our cases are only the tip of the iceberg.

    Michael J. Kretzmer. David J.Glass Ph.d, Lori A. Darakjian, Elise Greenberg of Carlson & Greenberg, Psychologist Angus Strachan Ph.d of Lund & Strachan ,FMBK Law , Kolodny & Anteau represent a blight upon what was once a noble profession .

    Please get back to me with your thoughts, I am thinking about copying this letter and the letter of 2-12-2012 to the California Attorney General.
    Thanks
    Graham.
    Ps I’ll be in LA for visitation. It snowed in NY this week.

    • sallie on March 23, 2014 at 9:22 pm
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    Is David Glass still practicing law in abuse cases? IF so , Why?

    • Robert Nordstrom on May 24, 2014 at 3:29 pm
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    There will be a place in HELL for liars [lawyers\ they are the scum of the earth.They care nothing about justice or the truth or morality-their only purpose is to use the disfuncational system for their own benefit.

    1. Sorry you feel this way but you couldn’t be more off base. Like all professions, there are good and bad lawyers. Much of the progress in this country over its 200 plus years has been achieved through lawyers and the court system. When the government has a citizen in its sights, it is the lawyer who has to stand up to the challenge to defend his client’s rights. The legal system allows folks to hash out their differences without resorting to physical confrontation. So you can be as angry as you want as lawyers but the vast majority of them are doing positive things for society.

    • RD on December 16, 2014 at 8:51 am
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    Hiring a lawyer is like a person coiling a rattlesnake around their neck to protect them from other rattlesnakes. I learned this from personal experience. Every lawyer I have ever met has been corrupt, unethical, crude, arrogant and heartless. It seems they are looking for a way to screw someone every minute of the day.

    1. I am sorry that you have had that experience with lawyers. at my firm we help many people and businesses deal with a variety of issues they face. We do so in a professional, open and honest way. I firmly believe that most lawyers want to do what’s in the client’s best interest the vast majority of times.

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