The Dallas Bar Association needs your help. So began a recent communiqué I received in my office. It continued: This year the group [DBA] will be addressing the critical issue of the apparent decline in professionalism among lawyers… In order to better address the problems associated with the profession and to formulate goals, we need to know what community leaders such as yourself think about lawyers...
Attached was a questionnaire for rating opinions on a scale of one to five. The questions ranged from the general (for instance, what people look for when choosing a lawyer) to more-to-the-point queries concerning “often cited complaints’-such as advertising, arrogance, expense, lack of results.
My own gripes about lawyers, I realized while filling in the questionnaire, are really quite tepid. Aside from one particularly sleazy defense attorney I once had the misfortune to tangle with while I was living in New York, my relations with lawyers have been quite satisfactory. Thanks, Don, John, and Parker.
But many of you, I think it is fair to surmise, do not feel the same way. And though it is certainly commendable that the Dallas Bar Association has decided to confront its image problems head on, I wonder if the legal profession is ready for the industrial-strength venom that the public is poised to unleash. Everybody’s heard the lawyer jokes (What’s the difference between a dead skunk and a dead lawyer? Skid marks in front of the skunk.) and the cocktail party whines. But lawyer-bashing, Nineties-style, may be shaping up to be something more than a joke.
As our cover story (“Why We Love To Hate Lawyers,” page 46) by Glenna Whitley attests, there are signs that the public is getting serious about fighting back. Legal malpractice is one of the fastest growing subspecialties in the legal profession. Mad as hell? So sue them.
Exacting retribution in court is fitting and civilized-some would say too civilized. In California, a man was arrested buying grenades destined for his ex-wife’s divorce lawyer.
While it has not come to armed rebellion in Dallas, there is no question that anti-lawyerism is on the rise. Anger over exorbitant fees, frivolous lawsuits, and rising insurance claims has created an increasingly vociferous band of crusaders. A Dallas man recently started a newspaper that he named The AntiShyster. When he and his publication were written up by a local newspaper columnist, he received more than a hundred phone calls from sympathizers saying, “Sign me up.”
Other angry anti-lawyer types are taking their protest to the streets. Whitley tells the bizarre story of a Waxahachie businessman who recently picketed his lawyer’s office, ran an ad in the community newspaper, and formed an ad hoc task force to run the guy out of town, with startling results.
Then there are those who would push the topic from the silly to the sublime. University of Texas at Austin finance professor Stephen P. Magee is writing a scholarly tome that he hopes will document the scope of the legal profession’s drain on American society. Magee argues that an average attorney will sap $1 million annually from the nation’s GNP. The prof measures the loss in terms of time and money wasted fighting spurious claims, loss of innovation due to excessive fears over product liability, and other factors, including his most intriguing theory: that the magnetic draw of law school prevents all manner of otherwise talented youths from becoming something more productive, like engineers or scientists.
While Magee argues that lawyers shouldbe taxed (an idea that lawyers, naturally,quite detest), he also floats a plan that is notat all unpopular, even among attorneys. Thatis, that there should be enrollment caps onthe country’s law schools. But, alas, hesighs, even if we closed law schools immediately and admitted no more attorneys tothe bar, it would take us 36 years to get ourper capita lawyer ratio as low as Japan’s.Meanwhile, we’ll just have to grin and learnlegalese. See you in court.