Legal Commentary by Monte Vines

Show Some Love to Your Lawyer?

Raymond Burr as Perry Mason in premiere episode 1957 public domain
Perry Mason — Public Domain

Years ago, at a community event, I happened to sit next to a doctor. He was a surgeon. When I introduced myself to him and told him I am a lawyer, he commented, “I always consider it a bad day when I have to go see my lawyer.” I thought about that for a moment and then joked in response “I consider it a bad day when I have to go see my surgeon!”

In the same way that going to see a surgeon usually means you have a serious health problem, going to see your lawyer often means that you are dealing with a burdensome legal problem. And legal problems can certainly make for a bad day. But the whole point of going to see your lawyer is to deal with that legal problem—and hopefully solve it—so you can get back to business or move on with your life. If the legal problem makes it a bad day, working on the solution could make it a good day—or at least a better day than if your legal problem is left to fester. So think of your visit to your lawyer as an opportunity to turn a bad day into better days.

But there’s another aspect to this. Lawyers, as a group, are not held in high esteem. A recent survey (here’s the link to it) by the Pew Research Center found that lawyers were at the bottom of the rankings of ten different occupational groups for how much they are seen as contributing to society. The very bottom. To make me feel better, I’ll point out a few occupations that were not included in the survey—used car salesmen, payday loan providers, politicians, and especially the people who write mudslinging campaign ads for them (we’re deep into election season as I write this). And I’ll also mention that the occupation scoring just above lawyers in the survey was business executives.

Of course, the survey measured public perception, and that can be very different from reality. I know many honorable business executives whose contributions to society—whether in large businesses or small—are profound. And the same goes for lawyers. There are many, many lawyers who work diligently and honorably every day for the good of their clients, and who make valuable contributions to our society by solving legal problems—or by avoiding them altogether.

But the reputation of lawyers has been damaged in several ways. Some of it has been self-inflicted—by the occasional lawyer who represents clients unethically or underhandedly, or in ways that seem more for the lawyer’s benefit than for the client’s, or who uses an advertising style that angers people. Some of it is inherent in that we advocate for one person against another in legal disputes, so the adversary’s lawyer is often seen as an enemy. And then there is the endless stream of books, TV shows, and movies of legal dramas portraying lawyers as unethical, dishonest, greedy, manipulative, and willing to do anything in representing their client because the end justifies the means for them. The latest example is a new TV show, How to Get Away with Murder. From the first few episodes, it seems there isn’t an honorable character in the whole cast. Portrayals like that of lawyers tend to drown out ones like Perry Mason or To Kill a Mockingbird, of honorable and even courageous lawyers.

If you find yourself buying into the idea that lawyers in general do not contribute much to society, here’s a suggestion. Meet your own lawyer for lunch sometime. Ask why they decided to be a lawyer and what approach they take to it. You might hear that they wanted to help make the principle of “justice for all” a reality for people. Or that they wanted to help people burdened by a legal dispute find a good resolution for it. Or that they wanted to help people understand and follow the law to avoid getting into legal problems. And you might just come away inspired.

11 Responses to Show Some Love to Your Lawyer?

    • There probably is some correlation. The source I checked shows that 32% of the Members of Congress are lawyers, and that the next most common occupation is business people, with 24%. It’s also interesting that business executives is the occupation shown in the Pew survey as having a level of public esteem just above lawyers. In theory, I think it should be good to have a number of lawyers in Congress. They have usually had experience trying to apply laws to real-life situations, and in theory that should make them somewhat sensitive to the challenges of drafting laws in ways that would work well in practice–which is always a challenge.

  1. Guys like Brad Pistotnik don’t help either. But most of us don’t make enough money to need a lawyer for business. So as a rule we fear the unknown.

  2. Monte,
    I enjoyed the blog. I had several opportunities to work with attorneys while buying and selling and merging a business and although it was expensive, the cost of not using an attorney would have been far greater. The bottom line for me is that I am grateful for the advise/counsel that I received. Last but not least, I looked at the survey and I can’t say that I would have agreed with many of the rankings.


  3. Good points, Monte. One of the attorneys on our staff commented on the same topic, “Everybody badmouths lawyers but who’s the first person you want to see when you’re in trouble?”

  4. Great blog as always. A couple of comments. The top occupations in the list were Military followed by Teachers. But the real point is that 9 of the top ten occupations fell in % ranking from the previous time the report was done. The only occupation that had a increase in their % ranking was “Business Executives” – maybe we’re getting better.
    On your idea about lunch with your lawyer, I did not see the reason for choosing the profession of “getting rich without all the additional years of education to be a doctor” listed.
    Keep the blogs comming – I ENJOY them

  5. Monte:

    Always enjoy your blogs. Not surprising to me our American legal system is too often viewed with disdain more than other professions because we have become too litigious instead of seeking compromise solutions. None of us, however, should take for granted our inalienable rights. One does not have to look far to see the abuses others throughout the world endure where the kinds of legal rights and remedies available to us do not exist. Perhaps Paul Harvey summarized our condition well we he quipped: “You cannot have self government without self discipline.”

  6. What a refreshing perspective on the esteem and lack of in which attorneys are held in this country. As in any profession, there are good ones and bad ones. I think the real fear among most people is the potential cost – any chance the legal profession will ever offer insurance coverage for clients???

    • Judy, a certain amount of legal work is covered by insurance now. Mostly it is tort claims against people with liability insurance policies, like auto accidents. And there are also some pre-paid legal services programs out there, which are basically insurance policies. But aside from that, most legal work is not covered by insurance, And yes, it can be expensive.

  7. Nice perspective Monte… Thanks for sharing. As Shakespeare said “there is nothing right or wrong but thinking makes it so” …So yes…show a lawyer some love….and I’d buy lunch any day.

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