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Why Do Attorneys Get a Bad Reputation?

Jul 14 2017

Written by Jason C. Henbest, Esq. and Brittany Saxton

When thinking about the profession of law, most people come to two conclusions: the legal field is a noble profession, but it is filled with ‘snakes.’ How can two such contradictory ideas exist at the forefront of the legal field?

Essentially, most people don’t need the assistance of lawyers until they find themselves in the middle of a major life event. Some of these events are pleasant, such as buying a home, selling a home, or starting up a business. Some of the events are not so pleasant, and unfortunately, some people only interact with lawyers when they are in the middle of a major life crisis. It is possible that an individual’s only experience with a lawyer may be the worst event of their life, such as getting a divorce or getting arrested. It is common for people to equate their hardship to the roles attorneys play, and thus push the blame for their misfortune onto lawyers.

However, becoming disgruntled with attorneys without considering the primary role of their job does the legal profession a grave disservice. The primary role of an attorney is to protect their clients by upholding and navigating the law. To illustrate this point, let’s consider the common scenario of selling a home. As the seller of a home in New Jersey, both you and the home buyer should have an attorney representing you in the transaction. While everyone involved in the deal should communicate openly and honestly, it is not the job of the buyer’s attorney to look out for your needs as the seller. The home buyer retained counsel to represent their needs, and that is what their attorney is getting paid to do. Unfortunately, it is not the role of any attorney in the deal to make sure the parties on both sides of the transaction are satisfied. Essentially, trying to please both parties is not only a conflict of interest, it is legally unethical since doing so would involve being retained by both clients to advance their interests. So how can society move past the unrealistic expectation that an attorney is supposed to satisfy all parties, when it is counterintuitive to their role to do so?

The answer lies in an anecdote, common in legal circles. When an attorney meets someone new, hits it off, and does not immediately disclose their profession, the stranger is pleasantly surprised to have hit it off with a lawyer. The stranger will likely say something in the same vein as, “I’m so surprised you’re a lawyer! I never liked them, but it’s nice that we get along so well.” This common anecdote proves that there is a general, negative reputation of lawyers that precedes us. This anecdote also proves that the negative reputation of lawyers is more often wrong than it is right. Like every profession, there are always a few bad eggs. However, understanding the role of the attorney in your interaction with them can help dispel the myth that all lawyers are ‘snakes.’

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