Bye Bye Bartleby

The Mythic Lawyer

In an earlier era closer to when I started, sadly now seemingly quaint, the iconic images of a lawyer included Abraham Lincoln, and Atticus Finch, the hero of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird— trusted legal advisors working tirelessly for  underdog clients, with little regard for how or when they would be paid.  Honest, fair-dealing and beyond reproach, this mythic lawyer was justifiably respected by his entire community, and by the lawyers with whom he worked, even the opposing lawyers with whom he crossed professional swords.  It was this image of a lawyer which led me, and I believe most members of our profession, to go to law school and become lawyers.

Sadly, this shining image of lawyers, and the profession at large, is now firmly replaced in the public’s mind with that of land sharks, gouging their clients with exorbitant fees, chewing off their own tails in feeding frenzies of greed and rapaciousness.    “Surveys show that the public feels about lawyers about as fondly as they do towards automobile repossessors or bill collectors, considering them ambulance chasers who feed off the misfortunes of others and are more interested in money than justice.” Jean Stefancic  & Richard Delgado, How Lawyers Lose Their Way (Duke University Press 2005) at 51 [hereinafter cited as J. Stefancic & R. Delgado].  In a 2006 Gallop poll survey of  Americans’ opinions about the levels of honesty and ethical standards in twenty-three professions, only 18 percent of respondents gave lawyers a ‘very high’ or  ‘high’ ethics rating. Lawyers ranked far below nurses, doctors and policemen, and only just ahead of members of Congress, insurance and car salesmen. Nancy Levit & Douglas Linder, The Happy Lawyer.  Making a Good Life in the Law (Oxford Univ. Press 2010) at 64.

The Bates Motel

Much blame for the degradation of  lawyers in society’s eyes is attributed to the landmark Supreme Court decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977).  Bates held that lawyers are entitled generally to the same First Amendment rights of commercial speeech to advertise their services as any other commercial business.  The holding in Bates overturned centuries of tradition which maintained that lawyer advertising demeans the profession as a whole and must be prohibited. Bates let the genie out of the bottle, and stripped the bar of its ability to effectively regulate lawyer advertising.  It has opened the floodgates to the sleazy advertising and shameless pandering for legal business seen and heard everywhere the public turns — on billboards, television, radio and the Internet — causing all lawyers to be lumped in the same ethical class as used car salesmen.

Stephen M. Winnick, Esq. is the founder and senior partner of Winnick & Sullivan LLP (www.winnlaw.com); and the developer of Summary Judgment™ (www.summjudg.com), a comprehensive case and practice management software tool built on Eastgate Systems’s Tinderbox data platform (www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox).  Additional information about Summary Judgment’s features and operation is available in his prior blog series entitledWinvictus’s Summary Judgment – the Romero Case (www.winvictus.wordpress.com).

Copyright © 2011 Stephen M. Winnick, Esq.  All rights reserved.

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