"What do you call 30,000 lawyers lying at the bottom of the ocean? A good start, for one".
"What do you have when you have a lawyer who is buried up to his neck in the sand? Not enough sand."
"What's the difference between a lawyer and a vampire? A vampire only sucks blood at night."
And yet, books, movies and television shows about lawyers are consistently among the most popular of their genres. John Grisham has sold over 250 million books worldwide and he just keeps on cranking out one hit after another. Before Grisham, there were a number of hugely successful lawyer-authors including Scott Turow ("One L" and "Presumed Innocent"), who has sold over 25 million books and Earle Stanley Gardner, who wrote more than eighty Perry Mason novels, the hero of which was adapted into a long-running television series.
Television series such as "L.A. Law" and "Law and Order" rank consistently among the top Nielson-ranked shows. Movies about lawyers, from "Legally Blonde" and "My Cousin Vinny" to "The Verdict" and "The Firm" are top box-office features, earning millions of dollars for their studios, producers and stars.
It would appear that Americans (and arguably much of the world) have a "love-hate" relationship with the legal profession. Why?
1. First and foremost, most lawyers are actually pretty decent people. The rigors of gaining acceptance into law school, graduating from law school and then obtaining one's license to practice law, are very much a "forging" of sorts. The resulting effect is that the legal profession is populated with many smart, hard-working and resourceful people, dedicated to solving the legal problem at hand.
2. Second, generally speaking, lawyers are the only people who can do what they do. Certainly, there has been a proliferation of software for certain legal tasks recently (such as software that purports to enable the purchaser to create their own will), but for the most part, if you have a legal problem, you need a lawyer to solve it. There is simply no way around it. The law is vast, complex and extremely technical in nature.
In fact, most lawyers today are actually specialists, similar to medical doctors who practice in specialty areas. This is because as our nation has grown, its legal requirements have become substantially more complicated, both administratively and substantively. It's simply impossible for one person to gain mastery over more than a few areas of the law.
3. Most people's exposure to lawyers is in an adversarial setting (see Part I of this blog post). Generally, litigation is a "zero sum" game and there are winner's and losers.
4. Regardless, even the winners in litigation usually end up with a substantial expense, in the form of legal fees. It is beyond the scope of this post to comment on the reasonableness of legal fees (and the law firm billing model), however, I will say that unlike the cost of medical care, from which many consumers are insulated due to health insurance, there is generally no insurance for legal fees. The net result is that people requiring legal services typically have to incur expenses that they otherwise would have preferred to avoid (You might be interested to know that there are other countries that employ what is called the "loser pays" rule, in which the losing party pays both sides' legal fees. As you would expect this is a strong deterrent to a would be plaintiff bent on filing a frivolous lawsuit).
So, we Americans hate our lawyers and yet loved to be entertained with stories about them. But the bottom line is, when most people are faced with a legal problem, especially when the stakes are high, they look to find the very best lawyer they can. And secretly, we appreciate and respect the work that most lawyers do for us.
And now for the plug. Law school is a big decision. If you're thinking about it, you need to read my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (Kaplan Publishing- Mar