Thursday, 22 December 2011

Why are lawyers hated?

Sitting there, as you scrape the bottom of any barrel, are the lawyers.

They sit alongside the estate agents and the tabloid journalists as those with the jobs that people claim to hate.

Most good and sensible people seem to be agreed that it is perfectly fine to dislike the legal profession.

It is an utterly acceptable social prejudice.

Why is this so?

In some ways, it is a strange hostility.

Few lawyers work on their own account; the usual situation is that a lawyer is acting for someone else.

The classic model is that the lawyer merely offers expertise in the law and advocacy which lay people do not have themselves.

However, it is the lawyer who is deplored, and not their client. To be annoyed that a person or company has engaged “bloody lawyers” or that a situation “has gone legal” is perhaps to implicitly absolve those instructing the lawyers from any real blame.

This disdain goes beyond the lawyers of other people.

Many people dislike their own lawyers and – quite genuinely – cannot see the point or the value in what they do. A letter costing £300, or a conveyance taking three weeks too many to complete, seems to be counter-intuitive.

What is actually being paid for?

And why are clients placed into situations where they feel compelled to pay significant amounts of money for what appears to be little concrete output?

What makes this antipathy particularly odd is that it is often accompanied by sentimentality about the heroic and defiant lawyer. Whether it be Atticus Finch or Perry Mason there is a general sense that whilst lawyers in general in bad, particular lawyers “on the right side” can be very good.

This positive sense is adopted even in personal life: when there is a certain type of crisis, the first thought of many people is to get the best lawyer they can (even if for various reasons such a lawyer is not available, or even in existence).

And any practicing lawyer will tell you of the friends who diss the legal profession one moment and seek free legal advice the next.

So what can explain why lawyers are hated?

One answer perhaps lies in the very nature of law.

The stuff of law consists of words and coercion. Lawyers, like wizards and witches with spells, believe that certain words when set out in formal and learned ways can have particular consequences.

For lawyers these words are contained in contracts, statutes, writs, wills, questions and speeches in court, and so on.

But unlike magical folk, the lawyers’ words can and do lead to real-world effects: for example, the bailiff at your door, or the guard taking you to the cell.

The job of the lawyer is deal with special forms of words, and the worldly implications that those words can have in any given situation.

This, of course, is generally lost on the client.

The business person cannot see why there has to be a forty-page agreement. The defendant cannot see why their advocate cannot simply lie to the jury. The parent is being denied access to their child. All the client can see – or imagine – is a person saying unhelpful and unwelcome things, and then expecting to be paid for it.

That said, it is actually difficult to imagine someone becoming a lawyer just because of greed.

For the same qualifications, there are more lucrative careers in business and finance.

Those lawyers who do earn vast amounts – QCs and City lawyers – are exceptional and their “success” usually down to random good fortune: there are many better lawyers who never become “fat cats”.

Any rapacity is not a feature of lawyers as a whole, though it may be a quality of certain lawyers.

The reason why lawyers are generally disliked may not be down to their actual conduct or their personal qualities.

It is instead because law is both powerful and – in the main – invisible.

Law leaves traces in certain documents and speech acts, and it can manifest itself in the coercive actions of hard-faced individuals; but generally law is equally threatening and elusive.

It is perhaps not so much that lawyers are hated, but that law itself is feared and mysterious.

That this is the case is unfortunate, and it is an entirely fair criticism that many lawyers do not do more to promote the public understanding of law.

Of course, barriers to lay understanding can suit the interests of lawyers. Lawyers have no general interest in enabling potential clients to work out their own legal problems.

And, so to that extent, lawyers really only have themselves to blame.


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


Adam said...

I think you might be imagining things are worse than they are, David. Yes, it's true that many people don't like lawyers. But to put you in the same category as estate agents or tabloid journalists? I doubt there are more than a handful of people on the planet who think *that* badly of lawyers. And even those are probably estate agents' mums.

Anyway, all this talk of evil lawyers reminds me of a little joke:

Q. What do lawyers and ducks have in common?

A. They can both stick their bills up their arses.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

I can tell you why *you're* hated, David.

It's because you're a self-obsessed, sanctimonious cunt.


Jack of Kent said...

You're right, Obnoxio, I am indeed a blogger.

Tom said...

The bulk of society resents the lawyer because his trade sign reads, "Come one, come all! Here is counsel, here is an advocate. Here is remedy for wrongs - if you can afford it."

The average person has a small problem: my neighbour ran over my fence and won't pay for it. The damage is about £70. It's enough out of my monthly budget that it causes problems for me, perhaps severe ones, but any attempt to pursue them legally is always going to cost more than that, and the money would, largely, go to lawyers.

So my neighbour damages my property, a tort which should be addressable at law. But I have no redress and end up fixing the damage myself. That is unjust. And who ensures that it is unjust? The lawyers and their fees.

When legal remedy is only available to the rich then the law is unjust.

And, by the by, it was me that ran over my neighbour's fence - and yes, I made good without the need for lawyers to be involved.

Corrinne Burns said...

I like your suggestion that the power of language links lawyers and magicians. According to a 16th Century Mexican text (Florentine Codex, Book 10), the Aztecs actually categorised solicitors and attorneys as "enchanters, sorcerers, magicians". Nothing changes.

BTW I've nothing against sorcerers. I mean, lawyers. My cousin is one, and a fine one she is too.

Corrinne Burns

Jobbing Doctor said...

Most professional people's contact with lawyers is very negative. They appear to encourage people with a grudge to cause no end of trouble, and the less reputable end of the market encourage (or appear to encourage) some with misfortune to seek blame.

Every time I read a story of medical misfortune, the piece ends with "the family/claimant/spouse are seeking legal advice".

I have had the fortune to have very little contact with litigation, but enough to know the effects on colleagues and friends.

One recent (highly dubious) case I know of was settled on a technicality, and the claimant received <10% after costs.

This is combined with poor drafting of law, the volte-face of certain lawyers like Peter Goldsmith who changed his opinion on the legality of the Iraq war, and other causes celebres means that your profession is not generally highly regarded.

There are a lot of legal minds closely associated with Government policies and decisions as well. They are to the fore when dealing with the nonsenses of, for example, libel law.

And yet Michael Mansfield and Gareth Pierce are well respected.

I understand why you feel sleighted, and are lumped in with the other lawyers as a group. I have always felt that this is unfair, especially as it happens to our profession as well.

I'm not sure what you can do about it.

The jokes will continue, I'm afraid - Q. What do you call 1,500 dead lawyers in a boat wreck at the bottom of the ocean? A. A good start.

Carl Gardner said...

You're right to link hatred of most lawyers with hero-worship of "good" ones - I think these things are connected somehow. Indeed, the contrast between the two is a staple of television portrayals of law.

And an especially interesting modern phenomenon is the idea of the "human rights lawyer". This person is both much-envied by many as having the sexiest and most moral career imaginable, and reviled by others as having handed this country to the dogs.

Happy New Year, David!

Fat Jacques said...

Because the law is an ass, so what are those who practise it? Myself, I hate lawmakers, much, much, more.

Alex B said...

From my perspective lawyers are disliked because they actively use a 'just following orders' defence when acting contrary to the public good. David himself does it in this article when seeking to blame clients not their advocates, whereas in my view both share the blame.

In engineering, our code of conduct forbids us from acting contrary to the public interest as do many other professions. Many of abuses of the spirit of the law (e.g. tax avoidance scams, libel abuse) only occur with the active encouragement of lawyers. Rather than take responsibility for their peers acting in this manner and punishing them, lawyers tend to blame the system, the clients or both.

If it was seen that lawyers actively refused to take abusive cases and the SRA/Bar disciplined those that did, then the standing of lawyers would be much improved.

Anonymous said...

One explanation could be that lawyers appear to demonstrate no moral judgement in situations where non-lawyers are inherently judgemental. This makes them appear less than human - after all what sort of person defends the murderer, prosecutes the destitute and squeezes the clearly unreasonable concession out in a negotiation? Not a very nice one that's who. What's more he or she appears to have no conviction in taking that position because it's just chance that they're not working for the other side. If the other party had instructed them first they'd be just as aggressive in pursuing that opposite cause. It looks like a cold, calculating, mercenary brain for hire to whomever, for whatever. I understand that such behaviour is a necessary product of the legal system we've constructed, but none the less - what's to like?

Obnoxio The Clown said...

You're right, Obnoxio, I am indeed a very mediocre blogger.

Fixed that for you!

Zed said...

The rapacity/blood-sucker trope may be because it's perceived that lawyers (in common with journalists) make money from unpleasant situations without sharing any of the emotional investment in the outcome. Appearing to be profiting from others' misfortune is a pretty good way to be universally reviled, regardless of how lucrative it actually is.

Another vein of dislike is because of, rather than despite, the "acting on instructions of" situation. It sounds like a "just obeying orders" excuse. From Dickensian debt-collectors to super-injunctors, lawyers represent the letter of the law acting against a sympathetic narrative. Atticus Finch and co, wielding the power of the law in favour of the sympathetic narrative are far less well represented in fiction and other media, I think. And because of the prevailing prejudice, confirmation bias and the Semmelweis reflex conspire to make us under-notice things like "ACLU lawyers", and over-notice "Trafigura lawyers".

And *also*, seriously, £300 for a letter?

Richard Moorhead said...

I don't really think lawyers ARE hated. I think they're feared and admired and the public association of lawyers with their most visible clients (criminal defendants) means the public questions their ethics. Even here, though, I suspect there is something of an understanding of the role of lawyers as defenders of (sometimes) unpopular people and causes. More prosaically, the research on lawyers clients tends to suggest quite high levels of satisfaction (sometimes rather higher, I am afraid, than more neutral assessments of lawyerly quality tend to suggest).

Simon Cooke said...

It seems to me that, while you recognise the magic of words (although accounts are less feared for their numerology), you miss the real problem with lawyers - self-interest.

Too many people, too often see (and this vision may be blurred) lawyers as acting in the interest of themselves and their profession rather than selflessly on behalf of the client.

This is - in the UK at least - reinforced by the closed shop approach surrounding access to the law. Lawyers act as gatekeepers to the law - you can only practice law on the say so of some previous lawyer.

How was it the Eagles put it?

You say you haven't been the same since you had your little crash
But you might feel better if I gave you some cash
The more I think about it, Old Billy was right
Let's kill all the lawyers, kill 'em tonight
You don't want to work, you want to live like a king
But the big, bad world doesn't owe you a thing

Happy Christmas!!

The Great Suprendo said...

...We have the Jewish Scribes, the Lawyers and pharisees; Christian hermetics; freemasonry etc.
Language has always been accorded this special significance of magic. It belonged to those few (holy or demonic) adepts that could, literally, make the 'spells' that could bind (or shatter) whole societies. Moses being the archetypal scribe.

It seems almost perverse, given modern history, that we should have lost sight of this. We uphold this modern disbelief in any form of enchantment, when surrounded by its evidence.

What was the 3rd Reich if not a suffocating mobilisation of language and signs? What else was Orwell's Newspeak?

I wonder how many lawyers are currently in parliament. That's not a criticism!! But worth a thought.

Perhaps lawyers themselves - CERTAINLY our legislators - have lost sight of the respect and care that should be given to their own discipline!

Leveson, for example?

A Brit Abroad said...

I think lawyers are hated because they are invoked against us when we are at our most vulnerable, emotionally, monetarily or criminally. Our main impressions of lawyers are similar to being kicked in the face when we are down:

When your marriage breaks down and you try to resolve it amicably, almost reach agreement but can't quite get it signed, then the other side takes on a lawyer. Your hopes are dashed. You know it's going to be expensive now.

You've fallen on hard times, are struggling to pay your bills and have to let one wait. Now you have a letter from a lawyer - in addition to what you owe, you also now owe a ridiculously large additional sum - just for a letter!

Sure there are "good" lawyers. People who have been falsely accused of murder can probably point them out.

But they never send me a letter saying "Hi. Our internal investigation discovered that someone at our company hacked your phone. We're really sorry. Here's a cheque."

Manchester IP said...

Try being an Insolvency Practitioner!

Not only do we get the grief you wrote about, but half the creditors seem to blame us personally that they are not getting paid.

Still, I suppose taking the exams and staying in the profession means I can't really hate it :-)

A Brit Abroad said...

The reason most people hate lawyers is that their normal experience of them feels like been kicked in the face when you are down:

Your marriage has broken down irretrievably. You try to sort out the financial affairs amicably. You almost reach agreement, but can't quite agree on the value of your share of the equity in the house she is living in, while you are sleeping on a friends floor. She "takes advice" from a lawyer. Now you know it's going to cost, and all chances of getting your share quickly, so you can put a deposit on that studio flat are gone.

You're struggling financially. The redundancy pay has run out and you can't afford to pay all the bills this month, so you have to let one wait. A letter from a lawyer arrives. You now owe the bill plus "costs". Great! You couldn't afford to pay the bill and now you have to pay costs as well! How can someone charge so much for a letter?

OK, so the latter argument could just as effectively be used against banks. But banks are big, faceless corporations nowadays, with computers sending out the letters, whereas this solicitor's letter is signed by the guy making money from your misfortune.

Sure there are "good" lawyers too. If you've ever been falsely accused of murder, you can probably point one out.

But I never receive a letter from a lawyer like this: "Hi. I'm a lawyer at Blues International. We suspected something fishy was going on here, so we executed an internal investigation and discovered evidence that an employee of Blues International had hacked into your voicemail. We are extremely sorry. Here's a cheque. Yours faithfully, Jon Clone."

That's why people hate lawyers. Not only are they expensive (like nukes), they are an escalation that you have to have if the other person has one (like nukes), but we'd all be better off if we could settle our differences without them (like nukes). If they were more like Kofi Annan, a friendly person, helping two sides compromise for mutual peace and benefit, we'd all love lawyers.

Ben Murphy said...

"Few lawyers work on their own account; the usual situation is that a lawyer is acting for someone else....
However, it is the lawyer who is deplored, and not their client."

Exactly. Most of us, when we think of lawyers, think of a barrister arguing passionately in court for the innocence or guilt of a client, but presenting this case not because they actually believe it, but because they have been paid to do so. It is a form of intellectual prostitution.

The heroic lawyers who appear in fiction - Perry Mason and Atticus Finch for example - are usually depicted defending people in whose innocence they really believe.

It is natural to suppose that it is relatively easy to defend the innocence of someone who really is innocent, and to prove the guilt of someone who really is guilty, but more difficult to save a guilty person from their just punishment, or send an innocent person to prison. We like the fictional lawyers who are committed to truth, but assume that in reality, a successful lawyer, a lawyer who has managed to impress other members of the profession, will have done so by successfully defending the guilty and/or prosecuting the innocent.

Most of the lawyer jokes I can think of are not so much about greed as about dishonesty.

Louise Restell said...

I think you are right about the language. Consumers understandably resent paying huge amounts for things that seem to require little input from the professional. I remember having to pay a notary £50 to watch me sign a document and put his stamp on it. I was not happy.

But as you also say, lawyers don't help themselves. They need to learn that even though they may need to produce long documents and use fancy words officially they should be able to explain why this is necessary in lay terms to their client.

I think you've missed two things though. One is the profession's reluctance to modernise and embrace the technological (never mind digital) age. Services are designed round the lawyers and not clients (e.g. only open 9-5 Monday-Friday), which often makes trying to get hold of them a challenge.

Secondly, charging by the hour. Until lawyers embrace fixed fees they will forever be seen as money grabbing tricksters who are more interested in your money than your case.

Great post though. But stop stealing my possible material...

To finish, another lawyer joke:
How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?
None, they prefer to leave their clients in the dark.

Louise Restell

Guy Chapman said...

I think the problem is, in part, that lawyers are emblematic of the perceived imbalance in power between the rich and powerful, and the rest of us. They can afford to use the law, with expensive lawyers, we can't afford the lawyers so have to capitulate.

One of the nicest men I ever had the pleasure to know was a lawyer, David Silsoe. Lead counsel for the proposers in many highly contentious planning inquiries, but nobody had a bad word to say about him.

alexis said...

You are so right when you say the lawyers only have themselves to blame.

I am a lawyer on a mission to help lawyers redefine the way they work with their clients and interact with the world and I'm sad to say that most lawyers I come across reject my guidance, guidance that would lead to them being loved by their clients -- out of skepticism and fear, more than anything.

Lawyers can be the most loved and trusted of all the professionals, if only they stop doing things that are so ridiculous -- like ...

* billing their time in 6 minute increments;
* focusing on and insisting what cannot be done, instead of creatively considering how it can;
* competing instead of collaborating;

But that will take a shift in mindset for most lawyers and unfortunately, with their controlling perfectionistic nature, most will not make that shift.

If you can find one of the rare few who has (like the lawyers I train), you will find a trusted advisor you love and can turn to with confidence (and confidentially) before making any and every important life or business decision.

That's a blessing.

Alexis Neely, Personal Family Lawyer

Tim said...

Lawyers are hated?

Well, volenti non fit injuria! ;)

Korhomme said...

My medical colleagues hated lawyers when they were being sued for alleged negligence -- they felt that it was the lawyers who were out to get them.

They didn't see that it was their own colleagues who provided the lawyer with the ammunition in the form of expert witness statements and advice.

Of course, lawyers do know the "best" expert for any given circumstance; and there have certainly been "experts" whose opinions have been shall we say "malleable". So it's unsurprising when people feel that they have been dealt with shabbily.

But the lawyer will say that they were acting in the best interests of the client -- yet one sometimes wonders if they aren't acting in their own best interests. How can we know? -- transparency is not a word in the legal dictionary.

John said...

The main reason that lawyers are hated is that the people giving them the bad press are journalists. Journalists hate lawyers because they stop journalists saying whatever they like. The lawyers are either in house media lawyers, saying you can't write that, it's libellous. Or they are external lawyers saying don't write that or we'll sue you, or they are lawyers saying to their clients' don't talk to the press, they will print lies. So the journalists slag them off-hence this blog.

Janis V said...

Perhaps less point-scoring in negotiation against opposition lawyers and more thinking creatively for the best solution for the client, even if this means SHOCK! conceding some minor points in order to get things concluded faster. Great that you won that point against that lawyer you can't stand, but your client needed that contract two months ago.

Writing an email quickly in response instead of dictating an overly verbose letter and getting your PA to eventually send it out two weeks later.

The billing system totally sucks. I have a friend who was charged one unit for her lawyer calling her to cancel a meeting because of the snow last year. How can we defend that as a profession?

Miriam Said said...

David...Have you been reading my blog, because I got here well before you did...

Miriam Said.

Dru Marland said...

I guess I used to think that the law was about unearthing the truth; from my (admittedly limited) experience, the job of the lawyer seems to be to win the case. Which can result in behaviour that to an outsider might appear dishonourable.

Paul Bernal said...

I just want to add a quote from that key piece of cinematic art: Bee Movie. Chris Rock's character, a mosquito, is suggested as an alternative lawyer to Seinfeld's bee, to a cow who wants to sue the human race.

Cow: 'What, are you a lawyer too?'
Mosquito: "Ma'am, I was already a blood-sucking parasite, all I needed was the briefcase"

dartacus said...

IT people come in for a bit of the same hatred, and for the same reasons.

Lawyers and techies both stand between their clients and a complex body of knowledge that a) it takes a long time to master, b) is entirely fabricated by people and c) is often counter-intuitive to the layperson.

That gives people the excuse to feel resentful in relation to some uncomfortable fact that is costing them several hundred quid, even though the adept knows that it most certainly is not.

I regret I have no lawyer joke to round off this comment.


Colmmu said...

The first time I came into contact with lawyers it was not as a client, it was as a post boy for a small high st practice when in my mid teens. I had no reason to like or dislike lawyers until I worked there and was astounded at having never met such a rude, patronising, condescending and obnoxious bunch of people up until that point. The employment ended when I fell off my bike on the way to the DX office and broke my collar bone, no sympathy - just high annoyance about the disruption to their post delivery (I did get a family member to post the urgent docs whilst I was being put into an ambulance).

So these experiences started me off as disliking lawyers as a profession, it was all about the attitude.

Years later when buying a house I once again sought out a lawyer and once again came across the arrogance and patronising manner and client service was completely absent. The next time was with in-house lawyers who would once again patronise and almost tut like a mechanic when you brought them an issue, because of this I read up on contract and copyright law just so I didn't have to go to them with every small query.

I think this is the reason people have negative feelings towards the profession, there is often this superiority issue that being a profession can bring and there are also some extremely rude and obnoxious lawyers out there, maybe it's a profession that attracts such people. I believe if there wasn't a problem in this arena then the LSA would not have come about. I saw the same thing happen in the insurance intermediary market in the 90's, an abundance of arrogance and lack of service that literally disappeared over night in the high st.

This said, I now work alongside lawyers at all levels and in multiple parts of the profession and there are plenty of wonderful, nice and courteous lawyers out there. Particularly the lawyers in the Twitter community who maybe are attracted to Twitter because they are more in tune with interpersonal communication.

I don't think many actually "hate" lawyers, but I think many actively "dislike" them.

Darkest lawyer joke I've heard

"What's the difference between a lawyer and an onion?"

"You cry when you cut an onion up"

jezhop said...

Thanks, David, for an interesting post.

I don't think people 'hate' lawyers. I think there is a cynicism from parts of the public, that has justifiably arisen because of the attitudes and approaches of the industry in the past. Here, the legal industry is hardly alone. There is still of course room for improvement, but it is fair to say there has been rapid improvement in service, transparency and thus public perception over recent years and there is momentum for this to continue.

I say this from the perspective of a fairly cynical non-lawyer working with lawyers for over 20 years.

No, lawyers are not hated. Bankers, on the other hand ...

Chris Richards said...

To be honest it all depends on who the lawyers are. I am friends with quite a few lawyers all of whom are perfectly nice people.

However having spent many an unnecessarily long day in the High Court watching lawyers debate some arcane point I cannot help but feel that it is a profession that exists primarily for the purpose of generating vast amounts of income for lawyers and for little else.

The moment a case looks like 'going to law' everyone knows that both parties have lost before the case even begins and the only ones to benefit will be the lawyers. The impression given is that they are like legal vultures picking at the bones of both plaintiff and respondent.

Dickens had it right when he said:

"The one great principle of the English law is to make business for itself. There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings."

It is little wonder that the profession is less than popular...

blackdogtales said...

Why are lawyers hated so much? Hmm, where to start...

Most people come into contact with the law under unhappy circumstances, whether civil or criminal.

People also have moral and value judgments that can seem contrary to the neutral application of the law. This is evident in criminal cases, when some defences can appear utterly disingenuous.

Often the law is stupid. Utterly stupid, or simply ancient. Acts that determine whether a dog is dangerous or not, and acts that prohibit cycling on the pavement dating from the 19th century. It takes a long time to get anything onto the statute books as well.

The legal system is exclusionary and leaves people feeling voiceless and powerless. I work with lawyers occasionally in my day job (town planning) and the system has moved away from formal inquiry (with cross-examination) to a hearing-based format. This is a positive development and should continue in other areas of practice.

The law is perceived as being stacked up against the ordinary person and in favour of those with money, influence or no shame in exploiting the system. This isn't just down to lawyers... it's an issue in in wider public life. It is very difficult and requires a lot of effort and determination, often in the face of intimidation, to hold a public body to account. Even when this happens, the redress is often fairly pitiful. Ombudsmen need to be given more powers and made more accessible to the public.

On the other hand, the law can be bought by those with the means. If the ordinary person wishes to seek litigation (or defend themselves), then they are risking potential ruin.

So, what to do? Tighten up public life. Make the law more accessible to the ordinary person. Why not nationalise legal services? If a bonking celebrity wants a super-injunction against a newspaper, make them queue up at the local National Legal Service office with the usual Monday-morning-after-the-weekend suspects in search of a duty solicitor, rather than sipping sherry in the chambers of the very expensive Sir Ephraim Hugefee QC. None of this will ever happen... there are too many vested interests and any change will be at a glacial pace.

Dan said...

A good lawyer is worth their weight in rare-earth metals. (Assuming that your problem has a value high enough that the fees only represent a reasonable proportion of your win/loss avoided). I speak from experience!

The problem I most often encounter is that (like all other professions) there are also a large number of not-so-good practitioners. They cost just as much. It's a bit like a plumber, who, having botched your bathroom, then charges you more and more while he attempts to put it right.

Sometimes I wonder if there is an unspoken agreement in the lawyer community to sneak fluffily worded clauses into contracts, knowing that this will guarantee a future revenue stream.

superglaze said...

When I was a kid growing up in South Africa, I was terrified of dogs. This was because so many had been trained as attack dogs and, despite the fences, walking down the street was a fairly hair-raising experience.

Now I'm older and I realise not all dogs are attack dogs, and most are very pleasant. It all comes down to what they are directed to do and be.

(Analogies aside, I echo what is said above about lawyers seeking to perpetuate their own business, often at the expense of others)

Jabba the Cat said...

Many peoples hatred of lawyers stems from the fact that with the legal profession the only certainty in the proceedings is the large bill at the end.

Jay said...

I think to some extent pretty much every profession is 'hated' at least at some times and by some people. Lawyers for their fees and seemingly intangible work.
I am a teacher and therefore a lazy good for nothing who couldn't cut it with a real job.

Even those who have obviously helpful jobs like Firemen, Doctors etc will be hated at some point.

I'm sure its just the Human Condition. Either that or the Daily Mail filling up its pages...

Terence Eden said...

Because they never give a straight answer! When working with in-house lawyers for a large company, the only answer I could get was "it depends".

While I'm sure there is a great deal of uncertainty around some legal concepts - this all seemed like their way of saying "we're covering our arses" or "keep paying us even though we can't be bothered to do the work you've asked for."

The nub of the problem - I think - is that lawyers write the law, they practice the law, and they regulate the law. For most normal people, it's like being forced to enter a game where the rules and referee are decided by the opposite team.

Sandrine Lopez said...

Um, how about using 100 words where 10 might have done? For some who has brought law into an almost 'understandable to the average person in the street' (like myself) level, I lost track of the point(s) you were trying make thsi time round. This is the main problem with 'law-ese'. It's almost like spin. Now explain why 'spin' is hated? Get the idea?

Eric D said...

"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."
Mark Twain

That is why you need lawyers/wordsmiths.

And I for one love lawyers for their ability to use the right word (most of the time), also for their ability to pick holes in arguments, and for their reasoning capabilities - just like in any profession, you will have bad apples but the profession itself is sorely needed in today's world.

I only once had to resort to the services of a (corporate) lawyer, and although the price was high, it did save my business – in addition, the first (senior) lawyer on the case gave us at least 4 full days of his time (over the Christmas/New Year period!) at no charge because he felt so sorry for us getting into a heap of trouble with a ‘business associate’ – he saved our business, happiness, and future, and all by himself redeemed an entire profession as far as I am concerned.

Sandrine Lopez said...

Terence Eden said...
"The nub of the problem - I think - is that lawyers write the law, they practice the law, and they regulate the law. For most normal people, it's like being forced to enter a game where the rules and referee are decided by the opposite team."

A very good point. Who exactly, for the average person, is watching these watchers? Do we have an 'Oflaw'? And even if we did, would it simply be more lawyers? QED?

A Brit Abroad said...

I think Jerome K Jerome summed it up best:

"If a man stopped me in the street, and demanded of me my watch," observed Jerome, "I should refuse to give it to him. If he threatened to take it by force, I feel I should, though not a fighting man, do my best to protect it.

"If, on the other hand, he should assert his intention of trying to obtain it by means of an action in any court of law, I should take it out of my pocket and hand it to him, and think I had got off cheaply."

PS, please delete my first comment - when logging in it didn't displaye the "post successful".

Geeb said...

This may not actually represent most practising solicitors, but the stereotype is that the lawyer is the guy in the Rolex who creams most of the value off the top of your meagre divorce settlement. "Parasite" is exactly the word - whatever the outcome of the case, the real winners are always the lawyers.

A man walks into a lawyer's office. "I've got some queries about a boundary dispute. How much do you charge to answer a question?"
The lawyer says, "£100."
"Okay, here's £300, can I have three?"
"Certainly. What's the third?"

Stephen said...

I think comments like for example Alex B's -- other professions have a public interest duty but lawyers somehow forgot to put that one in -- stem from ignorance of the profession, which is my explanation for why people don't like lawyers. The reason that lawyers *can't* stand up and lie because you told them to is because their professional duty to the public.

My view is that law is something that looks pretty easy, certainly easy enough (it's just letters and talking, right?) that anyone could do it. That means that people kinda resent paying a lawyer to talk and write letters for them.

Karl Sherratt said...

It would interest me to know how most people meet the law. many comments assume it is being sued/nasty divorce/criminal prosecution. and yeg I suspect mostly it is buying a house and making a will. And my conveyancer was fixed fees and gave a refund as they underspent.

guthrie said...

Actually, the reason is almost certainly simpler - the laywers that give other lawyers a bad name are those paid to present the best side of their client, or in other words, to lie on behalf of their client. Naturally you wouldn't see it as lying, but most people think it pretty much is.

Or to bully innocent people via letters telling them their client is unhappy with something this person wrote and will sue them.

So the bad side of lawyers is seen as getting the guilty off free by being economical with the actuality, and bullying people on behalf of the powerful.

The charging lots of money for doing not a lot thing also rankles, especially because most normal people have seen what happens to workers who try and get the maximum of money for the minimum of work, even skilled ones - their union gets attacked, their pay and conditions are destroyed and so on. But the lawyers they hear about (of course people don't see many of the other more useful lawyers, so the view is somewhat skewed) are clearly raking it in because of their specialised professional knowledge.

Sallyoo said...

As a lay person who pretty much hates lawyers, I'm encouraged by the post from Alexis, and echo many of Simon Cooke's sentiments.

Nobody has yet complained that solicitors never listen to their clients, but then transmit their garbled version of what has passed their inattentive ears onto a barrister who further mangles the misinformation.

I can absolutely understand what motivates litigants in person.

Carl Gardner said...

Gosh, a lot of people have had bad experiences with lawyers, haven't they? I've always thought the key skill of a lawyer is to get the client to understand you're on his or her side - which obviously a lot of lawyers are failing to do.

I've got some thoughts in response to other comments here.

@Janis V:

Perhaps less point-scoring in negotiation against opposition lawyers and more thinking creatively for the best solution for the client, even if this means SHOCK! conceding some minor points in order to get things concluded faster.

This is absolutely right, and works if the client is happy to concede the minor points. In family law, you often see what happens when clients will not concede even the most trivial issue.

@Dru Marland:

I guess I used to think that the law was about unearthing the truth; from my (admittedly limited) experience, the job of the lawyer seems to be to win the case. Which can result in behaviour that to an outsider might appear dishonourable.

What behaviour, Dru? Am I worng to infer that the point you're making is aimed at criminal defence lawyers? An important point here is that truth is not served if defence lawyers assume they know their own client is lying, and therefore for reasons of their own, fail to put his case to the court.

@Terence Eden:

Because they never give a straight answer! When working with in-house lawyers for a large company, the only answer I could get was "it depends".

Yes, this is a common legal vice. My advice to any new lawyer or law student is to wait and think before giving advice, then when you give it, to make it as clear, definite and short as possible. Twitter is good practice, I think.

I must balance this, though, by saying that clients often ask questions in apparently "simple" ways that are impossible to answer straight, at least without giving a totally misleading answer. You usually need some background to answer a real legal problem: it doesn't work as a Delphic Q&A.

@Sandrine Lopez

Who exactly, for the average person, is watching these watchers? Do we have an 'Oflaw'? And even if we did, would it simply be more lawyers?

The Solicitors Regulatory Authority and the Bar Standards Board have lay people involved in them as well as lawyers. From January a majority of the BSB board will be non-barristers. Regulation is similar to regulation of health professions.


Why not nationalise legal services? If a bonking celebrity wants a super-injunction against a newspaper, make them queue up at the local National Legal Service office with the usual Monday-morning-after-the-weekend suspects in search of a duty solicitor, rather than sipping sherry in the chambers of the very expensive Sir Ephraim Hugefee QC. None of this will ever happen... there are too many vested interests and any change will be at a glacial pace.

The vested interests in privacy law are those of newspapers who depend, or think they depend, on sex-spying for their sales. I think if you see "slebs" and lawyers as the bad guys in the Leveson saga, you've not been keeping up.

I've long thought a nationalised legal service might work - it might win the broad public support that the NHS has done. It might well be better for the state to build its own model of legal services, rather to do what it currently does - which is subsidise, admittedly at rates it sets itself, an essentially private sector model of legal services.

I don't think it could really work on the basis of banning Sir Ephraim, though. The NHS doesn't depend on banning his Harley Street friends.

Alex B said...

Stephen's claim that my view is based on ignorance of the profession isn't the case; I accept that there is supposed to be a public interest requirement but it is too narrowly drawn/read. Stephen's example of lawyers not knowingly telling lies is hardly a massive mark of sophisticated ethics.

This sums up the issue to me, the poor view of lawyers is too a certain extent that they seek to gain maximum advantage for their clients/themselves within the letter (rather than the spirit) of the law. This may be the nature of the profession and is similar to the defences bankers trot out that they have to rape and pillage as they have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders. However, just because you can do something doesn't make it right.

If lawyers as a group refused to take on clients who abused the law (eg tax avoidance, libel abuse) and shunned any that did, then perhaps they'd be better received.

Tim Dobson said...

Replace "Lawyer" with "IT Consultant" and "Law" with "Technology" and re-read.

A surprising amount continues to be true.

RichieRich said...

If all lawyers earned the median wage of 26K they would not be disliked nearly as much as they currently are. How is it possible to like someone who's part of a club which thinks it's entirely reasonably to charge £200/£300 and upwards per hour?

JoK likes to trumpet his liberal credentials. I wonder whether the great liberals of our age - Rawls, Dworkin, Sen, Cohen - would hold it to be just that, with a minimum wage of around £6/hour, others should be charging 50 times as much for an hour of their time?

And no, the odd bit of pro bono doesn't cut it!

Lloyd Jenkins said...

@Alex B

Surely it's the job of the courts to make the sort of value judgement that you're suggesting? Individual lawyers aren't necessarily very good at judging what the "spirit of the law" is.

It's also worth pointing out that there are people who honestly don't see an ethical problem with tax avoidance or the current law of libel. If they followed your advice then they'd be ignoring their own moral judgement and unquestioningly accepting the views of the masses. That can't be a good thing.

Dru Marland said...

@Carl Gardner - you asked what behaviour I thought dishonourable.... an instance, then.

I prosecuted a case against my former employer at an Employment Tribunal, representing myself because, while mindful of the adage that 'who represents themself has a fool for a lawyer', I could obtain no legal help. When the time came to exchange witness statements, I suggested a rendezvous with the company's lawyer to hand them over. He assured me that it was more normal to e-mail or fax them. Which we did. He then, during the hearing, argued that the statements were without value as they were unsigned.

It was a bit of a learning curve for me, of course. There was more behaviour on the part of the defence that I thought rather shabby, but anyway.... you did ask.

I don't hate lawyers. I don't even hold all lawyers in contempt. Some, though....

Sandrine Lopez said...

Carl Gardner said...
"The Solicitors Regulatory Authority and the Bar Standards Board have lay people involved in them as well as lawyers. From January a majority of the BSB board will be non-barristers. Regulation is similar to regulation of health professions."

So pretty useless then, given the low number of health & medical practitioners held to account for any number of malpractices?

What is the SRA&BSB regulation success rate like? Pray it isn't another FSA or PPC...

Anonymous said...

What do you call a busload of lawyers driving off the edge of a cliff?
A start.

xerxes said...

The law is a brilliant construction of our civilization, it is the means of resolving disputes. But so many lawyers think that because law is brilliant therefore so are they; see the website of any barristers' chambers for evidence. OK, I'm sure that some of you are clever, but please stop thinking that you're cleverer than the rest of us.

Miss Peas said...

I thought this was a really interesting post, and it raised some really fascinating ideas.

I think one major point at the heart of the dislike of lawyers is the fear of living in a meritocracy. Lawyers are people who succeed by their own ability and intelligence, and they have a major role to play in shaping our laws and society. Yet they are not elected – they are not representatives of the “people”. Instead they are self made, they have the position and influence they do because of their own ability and ambition. And I think that is threatening to a lot of people – because if lawyers can do that then your own excuses for being powerless wear rather thin and jealousy is an ugly thing.

I also think there is a profound distrust for people who argue a case they might not believe in – especially if they do so for money. My husband is a lawyer (yes, you met us in Coventry – hi!) and no matter how educated or intelligent some of our friends are, they cannot understand that he can make a theoretical argument. It winds them up no end, and they honestly think he holds all sorts of beliefs that he doesn’t because why would you argue for something you don’t believe in?

I think these two things combine and make people resent and distrust lawyers. Yes, they might need them, but that doesn’t mean they understand them. And this, I think leads to the most important thing: when you employ a lawyer, you become the “master” of someone who is more intelligent, better qualified, better educated than you are (for the vast majority of society) and this leads to a self-satisfied contempt. You – without education or mastery of a subject – can now direct someone who is, because they can be bought. And lawyers don’t fit well into the master/servant dynamic of a traditional consumerist transaction. They tell you when you are wrong, they sometimes tell you that you can’t do what you want, (if they are ethical) they won’t lie for you. None of this fits into the traditional concept of buying a service where the customer is always right.

Finally, and I do think this is of less importance, a good lawyer has had the ‘like-me’ driver trained out of them. They have to be confident in their intelligence and ability, and not mind when the opposition aren’t swayed by their personality. Most of the lawyers I know don’t give a stuff if you like them or not – at least not in a professional context. Winning and being respected for their ability is a damn sight more important than being liked. To be perfectly honest, with most of the lawyers I know, this doesn’t end when they leave work. If you interact with people like that for the majority of your waking day it has an impact on how you see life. Now, I admire this. I would love to be proud of my intelligence and skill without feeling that I have to make other people feel better about themselves by pretending to be less than I am – but that is me, and it’s why I could never be a lawyer.

Korhomme said...

@ Carl Gardner

A National Legal Service? Think for a few minutes about the realities; your manager will tell you that you have done your quota of divorces/superinjunctions for the year, and you can't do any more until the next financial year starts. Your manager tells you that you can't have a replacement secretary for a couple of weeks. Your manager tells you that as Courts are so very expensive, they will in future operate 24/7 -- public holidays not excluded. And the most contentious item for the next committee meeting is the size of the Christmas Tree - - last year's were too expensive.

And so on. Do you really want to work in such an environment?

Grandpa said...

Thanks for your Blog, interesting and always thought provoking. One area that lawyers in general come out very badly is in parliament. The public sees lawyer MP's who think the law is theirs to do with as they wish, rejecting the concept that the law belongs to all of us. Laws are made on the flimsiest grounds creating another aspect of our lives from which lawyers may coin it. Legislation seems too incapable of reducing lawyer’s involvement in our lives, for this parliament should hang its collective head.

Hopper said...

I find the comparison between lawyers and IT practioners interesting. Certainly there is no shortage of sharks (and incompetent sharks, at that) in the IT profession - one need only look at the NHS's Connecting For Health. Both lawyers and IT practitioners do have the excuse that, in the end, they are the interface between unknowledgeable consumers and an incredibly complex system which the consumer wishes to use with minimal effort and expertise. At least the lawyer has relatively unified and powerful regulators to fear; no such terror confronts the IT consultant.

The only difference I'd point out is that the ease of use of computing for many purposes (email, social networking, trans-continental web browsing, simple business networking and shared computing) has become significantly easier and cheaper over the past ten years due to heroic efforts by select IT practitioners (Linus Torvalds, Jerry Yang, Larry Page and, God help me, Bill Gates). I struggle to think of a legal analogue.

Julie said...

Interesting that others have mentioned IT.

Historically, the TV repairer also used to come in for stick. Never mind that there would be hundreds of subtly different sets with their own failure modes, requiring thousands of different parts, and some faults can be really obscure. Several hours work ending up with re-soldering a dry joint or changing a valve and the set bursting back into life would lead to a hefty bill. And remember also that radios -- which these people also used to repair -- were vastly simpler internally than TVs and were mostly similar to one another internally, with only slight differences between makes and models. TVs were way more diverse.

Fact is, you're paying someone to know how to do something properly, that you don't know how to do. Such is the nature of precision instruments.

Lifewish said...

Simple answer: People don't like expensive solutions to artificial problems.

Nicole said...

Lawyers get some stick, yes...

but try working for the taxman!