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Why Do People Hate Lawyers?

Why Do People Hate Lawyers?

Why Do People Hate Lawyers?

The legal profession arguably has a major image problem. A research website recently reported that lawyers are one of the most disliked groups of professionals in the United States. They are in fact often classed with the likes of stock traders, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) workers, and politicians. Although the adverse reputation of lawyers has fluctuated for the whole of American history, it has yet to land squarely on the public’s good side. The stigma attached to being a lawyer is as old as the legal profession itself; from Shakespeare’s Henry IV which infamously states “… let’s kill all the lawyers” to many of the current legal television shows that are rife with stereotypes.

Why Are Lawyers So Disliked?

Lawyers have been and continue to be disliked by the general population for a multitude of reasons. Unfortunately, the actions of some lawyers have contributed to this cynical view of both the profession itself and those who practice it. One factor that contributes to this unfavorable image is that you are more likely to hear about a lawyer doing something deemed as shady than to hear about the ones who do good.

Based on research conducted by the Pew Research Center, the years of effort that go into earning a law degree are viewed as insignificant, especially when you consider that only 18% of those polled thought lawyers contributed anything beneficial to society and only 43% felt that lawyers made a moderate contribution. 34% held the opinion that lawyers contributed very little or nothing at all to society. This public standpoint is due in no small part to the numerous lawyers who have chosen to misrepresent, inadequately represent, overcharge, and even outright lie to their clients.

So, despite their advanced education and apparent social standing, why else does the public take such a dim view of those who practice law? Here are a few popular misconceptions about lawyers.

Lawyers Are Seen as Unscrupulous

For the most part, people only need a lawyer when they find themselves in a tough situation such as going through a divorce or child custody battle, being charged with a crime, or being sued for negligence. After all, if nothing is wrong, you don’t need a lawyer. Their proximity to negative life events has unfortunately helped to create the impression that lawyers prey on people when they are at a low point in life rather than simply offering their skills and services to those who are in need of them.

They Sometimes Come Across as Arrogant and Smug

In order to prepare for their future careers, lawyers go through years of extra schooling and training. While many relish their perceived stature as practitioners of law, they can end up becoming unnecessarily abrupt and even out-of-touch. Not every lawyer feels the need to take the time to understand their clients’ concerns or demonstrate compassion for what their clients are going through. For many lawyers, the focus is on the end game and not on how their clients are feeling, which can make a bad impression.

They Are Seen as Time Wasters

The average person has no idea of the intricacies and complexities of the various legal processes. What they do know is that as soon as a lawyer gets involved, their case seems to drag on for a long period of time.  Deals, settlements, contract signings, and divorces can take months or even years. The truth of the matter is that, with or without qualified legal representation, these cases were always going to take a significant amount of time to process, mainly because the court system itself is slow, but people become often become frustrated with their lawyers instead.

No reasonable lawyer is going to deliberately waylay their cases. They need time to review the legalities of the situation, look for loopholes, conduct investigations, consult with experts, and analyze mountains of reports, documents, paperwork, and contracts, all of which take time.

Appointments Can Be Expensive

In some circumstances, clients are billed for every minute they spend with their lawyers. These consultation fees can be costly, some totaling as much as several hundred dollars per hour. In an appointment where every second counts, things often get contentious. Clients know that the clock is ticking from the moment they sit down, so they sometimes get upset when they have questions that require their lawyer to track down and review specific information before they can be answered.

They Make the Law More Complicated

While this isn’t generally true, it can be an incorrect perception some people have. Unless your attorney is deliberately trying to rack up extra billables, which is rare, it’s more likely that your case was more complicated than you realized at the onset. Fortunately, some empathetic lawyers take the time to ensure that their clients understand what is going on as their case progresses. They do so by explaining legal terminology as it comes up during meetings. In this way, lawyers can actually empower and enlighten their clients.

They Can Appear Intimidating

Many lawyers project an image of power, money, and prestige. This can manifest itself in the clothes they wear, the cars they drive, and the way their offices are furnished, causing some people to immediately feel intimidated. Some lawyers may feel that presenting themselves in this way indicates how successful they are which, in turn, makes them desirable to potential clients. Others do their best to intimidate the opposing attorney in their clients’ cases. The bottom line is that despite lawyers sometimes coming across as intimidating, most of them want to form genuine relationships with their clients.

They Only Care About Money

Lawyers are an integral part of a system that can often feel like it favors the well-connected and wealthy. Clients are often expected to pay a retainer and settle their bills according to a schedule. Depending on the type of case and the lawyer’s fee structure, this can be stressful for many clients.

The truth is, though, that there are many lawyers (personal injury lawyers, for example), who work on a contingency fee basis. This means that the lawyer only gets paid if they secure compensation for their client through a settlement of jury verdict. Their clients are not subjected to billable hours, and they do not take any money upfront. With this type of payment structure, all financial risk is taken by the lawyer or their firm. It also has the added benefit of aligning your goals with the goals of your lawyer: to resolve your case as quickly as possible for the maximum amount of financial compensation.

They Don’t Communicate

Many people feel that their lawyers do not communicate with them frequently enough, when in reality there is often nothing new to report due to the slow nature of most court systems. The Law Society of England and Wales conducted a study of lawyers and clients on their perspectives of and experiences with their lawyer’s services. Half of the clients who were interviewed voiced dissatisfaction with their past or current legal services citing “communication issues” as their biggest problem.

They did not say that their lawyers were sloppy, too busy, or careless in their practice, but that they failed to take the time to communicate effectively. A survey conducted by the International Bar Association in 2012 similarly revealed that poor communication was the number one reason for the termination of most lawyer/client relationships.

Stereotypes of Lawyers

Many clichés and stereotypes exist concerning lawyers. Let’s go over some of the most common stereotypes that may contribute to the negative perception some people have of lawyers in general.

The Affluent Lawyer

Contrary to popular belief, most lawyers are not living luxuriously rich lifestyles. However, this misconception can often make it feel like lawyers are out of touch with the general public.

The Ambulance Chaser

There is a perception that some personal injury lawyers will take any case they can get their hands on, even if it means hanging around a hospital emergency room all night to find potential clients. In truth, most lawyers see the value in doing an outstanding job for their existing clients and building a referral network from which they can grow their business. Instead of taking every case presented to them, they take those that present genuine injustices.

The Unethical Lawyer

There is a nugget of truth in the perception that some lawyers operate as if the rules do not apply to them. They bend rules, spin opinions, twist facts, and hide behind their own brand of logic. Think “Better Call Saul,” the hit television series about a scam artist turned defense lawyer.

The Ignorant Lawyer

Most people are concerned they may end up with a incompetent lawyer. These are lawyers who never research issues for their clients, update their forms, stay abreast of changes to the law, and generally and willfully remain ignorant while still continuing to practice law. Fortunately, most lawyers stay well-informed on legal issues pertaining to their practice areas and stay up-to-date on business practices and technology.

The Workoholic Lawyer

This is the lawyer who lives at the office and bills endless hours a month. In addition to avoiding burnout, a good lawyer knows exactly how much he can handle before spreading himself too thin and doing a disservice to his clients.

The Sloppy Lawyer

This is the lawyer that refuses to follow the rules of procedure, take on a new practice area every six months, never contact clients to update them on their case status, have no admins to help them, and their calendar is such a mess they miss filing deadlines. Fortunately, lawyers like this do not tend to last very long so you are not likely to run into one.

The “I’m on TV” Lawyer

It is not uncommon for lawyers to advertise their services on billboards, at bus stops, or even on television and internet ads, but these lawyers can sometimes be seen is insincere. Many fear they may never actually meet the lawyer unless they happen to see him in court. They expect he has an entourage of associates churning out billable hours and a host of “case managers” and paralegals who actually meet with the clients and do the bulk of the work.

The Pitbull Lawyer

For most people, this phrase calls to mind a divorce attorney but can apply to any litigator who is perceived as overly aggressive. While their unwavering sense of commitment to their client may be admirable, an antagonistic lawyer is not without their downsides.  Most lawyers do not engage in this type of behavior and abide by the rules of professional conduct. They are still able to effectively advocate for their clients without resorting to tactics that may be perceived as bullying.

The Ghost Lawyer

No matter how many emails you send or phone calls you make, you will never be able to reach a ghost lawyer. They agreed to take on your case and have been completely and utterly inaccessible ever since. You will never know the status of your case. This is reflective of the poor communication and focus on money mentioned earlier. If you are having trouble getting your lawyer on the phone after you sign with them, it is time to find a new lawyer. Unfortunately, this is not a common occurrence.

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