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Lawyers Not Popular

According to a 2009 Gallup survey, only 25% of all Americans had a positive view of the legal profession. By contrast, 62% of respondents viewed the computer industry favorably. Lawyers are frequently the butt of criticism in jokes, newspaper cartoons, and the routines of standup comedians. The stereotype tells us that lawyers are only interested in money, and will do whatever it takes to get it. Of course, this does not jibe with reality. However much Americans criticize a society that has more lawyers per capita than any other, the habits of Americans keep the lawyers in business. Americans are “litigious” (they like to sue each other). American courts are crammed with actions that take years to resolve. American laws affect daily life so deeply that lawyers (and legal bills) lurk ever in the background.

Most Americans encounter lawyers at the worst points of their lives, during divorce proceedings, after accidents, after a family member dies, during commercial litigation, or when they have been arrested for driving after having one drink too many. Sometimes lawyers are required to defend criminals who have committed horrible crimes, occasionally in circumstances in which the criminal escapes punishment. Careful manipulation of the law allows the rich to become richer, the powerful to become more powerful, all assisted by lawyers. Lawyers work in government at all levels. They design and run government, and not always in a user-friendly manner. The very nature of the American legal system requires lawyers to be largely unemotional about their work.

Lawyers tend to see the situation differently. Many struggle for basic income, taking on the headaches of other people while other professions like medicine do far better financially. Lawyers also deal with a profound misunderstanding of the law on the part of the public. Most want to provide worthwhile legal services at a fair price. The structure of the American legal system allows a small minority of attorneys to abuse the system to their own profit, and these lawyers tend to give a bad name to the entire profession.

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