Wednesday, January 26, 2005

What's Wrong with the Law?

The popular press is full of stories chronicling the troubles of the modern legal profession. And it would take no more than perhaps two minutes to find someone who has a gripe with our profession. Top that off with scores of attorneys who have left practice, or would like to if they could.

One has to ask the question- what is wrong with the law? Plenty of other folks have written more eloquently than I ever could about firm life and how it drives many people out of the profession or to a bottle of booze or drugs. What I am interested in here, then, is why are we held in such low regard by the general public.

I would argue that our problem is with our priorities. We place far too much emphasis on the primacy of clients to the detriment of our obligation to our profession, our society and ourselves. No other profession requires such allegiance to a client- doctors can refuse to perform a procedure they feel unnecessary to the patient, accountants can end their work for a client they believe is bending the rules of GAAP, teachers can teach evolution even if a parent demands creationism, etc.

The legal profession has taken the notion of zealous representation to mean whatever the client wants. The big corporate client wants to bury mom and pop in discovery? Sure... we can do that. The medical practice wants to use experts from all four corners of the US in order to make deposing them costly and time consuming for the plaintiff? No problem. All we care about is winning. There is very little consideration of the costs.

How much has this behavior cost the legal profession? Have you looked at polling data lately? Lawyers are somewhere above the devil and below the tax collector. Whereas once people looked at lawyers as guardians of our democracy and society, we are now seen as leeches on that society. And let us not lay all this blame at the feet of trial lawyers, who are by and large fighting to right some very serious wrongs.

We are all to blame, to some degree. Even those who do not engage in practice areas that might tend towards the shady are still at fault, for they have permitted their colleagues to engage in such behavior. The practice of law is largely self regulated and we have a duty to police ourselves in such a way that the highest ethical standards are met. We have a duty to not only our profession, but also to society at large, to provide them with fair and effective representation. Finally, we have a duty to ourselves and our individual conscience. Surely, we all want to be able to pay off our debt, buy a home and a car, etc. But, at what price are we willing to sell our ideals? I would argue that the price is all too cheap.


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