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THE LEGAL PROFESSION TODAY

This section sketches various aspects of the legal profession today in the United States. We begin with an age-old problem for lawyers, their negative public image, as any number of lawyer jokes on the Internet will attest.

THE NEGATIVE IMAGE OF LAWYERS

This negative image has probably existed ever since lawyers first existed, because lawyers have never been popular (Friedman, 1998). Plato spoke of lawyers’ “small and unrighteous” souls, and Keats said, “I think we may class the lawyer in the natural history of monsters.” Thomas More left lawyers out of his Utopia, and Shakespeare made his feelings known in a famous line from Henry VI, Part II: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Reflecting this long-standing image, Americans hold a dim view of lawyers’ ethical qualities. A 2016 Gallup Poll asked a national sample of Americans to rate the “honesty and ethical standards” of people in different occupations as very high, high, average, or low. Whereas 84% of respondents gave nurses a very high/high rating and 65% gave medical doctors this rating, only 18% gave lawyers this rating. Ranking even below lawyers were such occupations as insurance and car salespersons and members of Congress (Norman, 2016).

Headlines in professional and popular publications and book titles over the years have been anything but flattering. Some examples over the years are “The Lawyer as Liar” (Uviller, 1994); “Why Lawyers Lie: The Truth Is Not the Highest Priority in a Criminal Trial” (Abrams, 1994); “The Law According to the Chequebook—The Duplicity of Lawyers” (Fotheringham, 1994); “Who Ya Gonna Call? 1-800-Sue Me” (Newsweek, 1995); Beyond All Reason: The Radical Assault on Truth in American Law (Farber and Sherry, 1997); and The Case against Lawyers: How Lawyers, Politicians, and Bureaucrats Have Turned the Law into an Instrument of Tyranny, and What We as Citizens Have to Do about It (Crier, 2002).

Although lawyer-bashing is a venerable tradition, in fairness to lawyers, much of their negative image is exaggerated, and they are probably no less ethical or otherwise dislikeable than members of other professions. Some of the charges are due to guilt by association. They often deal with people in trouble—criminals, politicians, business people, and those seeking a divorce. At times, they articulate strong partisan interests, and it is no surprise that they are the object of strong sentiments. Still, although lawyers play a useful role and are sometimes admired, they are rarely loved. Probably no other legitimate profession has been as subjected to extremes of homage and vilification as lawyers (Bonsignore et al., 1989).

 
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