During a recent haircut, my barber told me of his divorce troubles. He was sure he was getting the "shaft" (to paraphrase that immortal C & W song, "She Got the Gold Mine and I Got the Shaft"). Worse, he was absolutely convinced that, in his words, "the lawyers were in on it", in other words, he believed that the lawyers had colluded to rob him of his assets. I will discuss later why, despite popular belief, this is actually an almost zero-probility occurence.
At the outset, I should say that I don't think most people really hate lawyers. Instead, a lot of people merely think they hate lawyers. The problem is exacerbated because generalizing "lawyers" into a single group, is sort of like generalizing other professions into one category.
For example, in the case of doctors, there are doctors who are heart surgeons and those who are brain surgeons. Some doctors who deal with cancer and other doctors who deal with childbirth, pimples, gall bladders and acid reflux. And by the way, generally speaking, you likely would not go to a childbirth doctor (an "obstetrician") for chronic pimples. Similarly, there are cost accountants, certified public accountants, and auditors. I think you get the idea.
Grouping any of these folks into a single category on one level makes sense; but making assumptions about the category can lead to erroneous conclusions. The assumption that all lawyers are alike creates a logical fallacy (e.g. "He's a lawyer. All lawyers are jerks. Therefore, he must be a jerk."). The truth is, certainly there are lawyers who are jerks. However, there are clearly many good and decent lawyers out there who could never be defined as "jerks" under any definition (e.g. Abraham Lincoln), except under a completely irrational and biased analysis.
In our society, most laypeople deal with lawyers personally only in the event of a conflict, typically in the form of a civil lawsuit. Divorces, personal injury, property disputes, contract claims, product liability and warranty matters and other matters of this nature are, by definition, adversarial. Simply, in these conflicts, someone wins and someone loses (some would argue that, in a lawsuit everyone loses). Lawyers are by necessity almost always right in the middle of these disputes. And let's face it, the lawyers typically become the lightening rods in disputes.
It's understandable because to the combatants, the lawyers are the "face" of the lawsuit (And in my opinion, that's the way it should be. The lawyers act as "insulation" and reduce the personal nature of the dispute, and thus the emotional issues, which are almost always present in lawsuits). Essentially, the lawyers "become the fight."
The foregoing aside, I believe another reason people think they hate lawyers, is that lawyers are trained to argue either side or both sides of any issue. We are trained to identify issues, anticipate issues and break the issues down into seemingly infintesimal sub-issues. It's part of the "issue, rule, analysis, conclusion" methodology that drives the American legal system. It is inherent in the process.
Laypeople are generally not trained to spot these issues. There is nothing that can make you feel stupider than having someone point out something you missed. Even worse, if they point it out during a fight. It reminds us of our own shortcomings. But again, remember that this is how lawyers are trained. We do it not to show laypeople what they missed, but instead because it is in our DNA; we simply cannot help ourselves but to analyze issues in this way. But we don't mean anything personally by it.
Another problem is that there is an incredible rigorous labyrinth that one must go through, in order to become a lawyer. You have to first go to college. You have to make good grades in college. You have to take the LSAT. You have to do reasonably well on the LSAT. Then, a law school has to decide you are good enough to admit you. You have to pass law school. You have to pass an ethics exam. You have to pass the bar. It takes an incredibly determined and intelligent person to traverse this labyrinth. Simply, lawyers are focused and smart (I am not going to go into why anyone would hate someone who is intelligent and dedicated. Suffice it to say that good old-fashioned jealousy could very well play a role.)
I have worked with hundreds of lawyers, both before my legal career and during. I have never met a lawyer who was a jerk. This includes lawyers who were my adversaries in litigation. Instead, I have met people who are extremely dedicated to zealously representing their clients' interest (which, by the way, is a duty that every lawyer has to her client). In some of their zeal, some of these lawyers did things I didn't like. In fact, they angered me. But no one ever did anything that was unethical, immoral, dishonest or even unfair.
The truth is, it's very easy for clients to reports lawyers for problematic behaviour to the bar authorities. Bar authorities (which are referred to as "SROs" or "self-regulating organizations") have a huge incentive to appropriately respond to these complaints. Simply, if they do not, eventually the government will step in and do it for them. Also, the future of the profession depends upon its ability to police itself.
Unfortunately, lawyers' license are suspended, and lawyers are disbarred or put on probation every day. But, in the grand scheme of things, these lawyers are a micro-minority of the practicing profession. The percentage of lawyers disciplined each year, in statistical terms, is "statistically insignificant". And it's a very, very small percentage of lawyers that do ever do anything that would even remotely place their licenses in jeopardy. After all, why would anyone gamble with their future ability to earn a living?
There was an old commercial for what I believe were cosmetics, featuring a statuesque European model in an expensive gown. After the camera panned her perfect physique, it focused in on her flawless face. She looked into the camera and said simply, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."
At the risk of flattering my profession, when you're in the middle of a fight, you want the best person in your corner you can find. And a lawyer is almost always going to be that person. Most are pretty good at what they do. But the result may not be pretty; in fights there are is almost always a loser (This is not to say that mediation isn't an option; many lawyers encourage mediation and some jurisdictions require it. But if mediation fails, you are still left with a fight). But don't hate the lawyers because of it.
In the same way, people choose to hate and blame lawyers for the disputes that arise as a result of every day life. People accidently (or ngeligiently) hit others' brand, shiny new cars, or worse. Neighbors build fences on other peoples' properties. And unfortunately, families break up.
Lawyers step in to try and protect the rights of their clients. Sometimes, it gets messy. But then again life is messy. But don't hate the lawyers because of it. As the old saying goes, "Don't shoot the messenger."
And if you're thinking about law school, be sure and pick up a copy of my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (Kaplan Publishing, March 31,