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April 07, 2008

Lawyers Are Still Despised. How Do You Respond?

My friend, Scott Greenfield, unleashed a firestorm of 'public' response on his blog Simple Justice when he criticized John Stossel's 20/20 report about a young couple in New York City (happened to be lawyers) who felt compelled to sue their next door neighbor for smoking and/or not preventing smoke from getting into their hallway and other common areas in their apartment building. They were concerned for the well-being of their four year old as it related to the toxic nature of second-hand smoke. He didn't like Stossel's condemnation of the lawyers and said so here.  (And Scott doesn't take anything from anybody and his responses to commenters reflect this. So, make sure you read the comments.)

Scott was assailed by commenters denigrating lawyers, particularly these lawyers as plaintiffs, and this then turned into a mantra, 'lawyers are a plague on society."

I don't choose to enter the fray, but it begs a very important issue new lawyers face:  What do you say when you meet someone who is, shall we say, less than impressed with what you do and feels no qualms about telling it to? 

So, I'm asking you.  What do you say?


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I say, "I'm a lawyer, but I'm one of the good ones." I add a charming laugh at the end.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Pam and Jim, thanks for joining the conversation. When I was teaching I was amazed at how sheepish students felt...there were many times they simply didn't want to say they were a lawyer because they didn't want to be the victim of an atittude. This was because they themselves hadn't developed a dialogue about what they do.

This isn't just important for self-esteem, it is also about sending a message to potential clients you can help them as counsel.

However, back to the topic...it is important you know how to address this. Usually, when someone learns you are a lawyer and goes on the 'attack' they are looking for you to persuade them otherwise. (In the rare case, they just want to be heard and there is nothing you can say to the contrary.)

But, it is important to position yourself with pride as well as knowing when to sidestep.

Pam, by saying, "I'm one of the good guys," you openly acknowledge the person's issues and that there are some lawyers who give the profession a bad rep...as well as side up with the person.

What happens when the person responds, 'there are no good lawyers?"


When I get the crack about there being no good lawyers I usually laugh and respond, "All the way up until you need one, right?"

Many people have experienced situations where they either considered retaining or did retain a lawyer. Even people who "hate" lawyers can't deny their necessity.

The skeleton in the haters' collective closet is that they all hire lawyers anytime they feel the need. A good natured, gentle reminder of this fact, such as the response I generally give, usually elicits agreement from detractors.

With this agreement, we can start to build a relationship as simply two people rather than resigning ourselves to be adversaries from the start.

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