Why is the Legal Profession Given a Bad Reputation?

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Some perception of lawyers have been around for a long time, and perhaps no one knows who came up with the bad reputation first, the public or the legal profession. Is it important to know? We do know there have always been complaints with different themes. The most recent data from the public says approximately 60% of the public think lawyers are ''greedy,'' and only 20% think that they are either "honest or compassionate". The public has always had a basket full of nasty comments and a laundry list of jokes. The protests of the public always change but they are always present.1

Currently more than 60% of those polled believe lawyers are no longer seeking justice. Then what are they seeking? Perhaps a win that leads to money and maybe a new precedence that gets their name on the nightly news. A small portion of those polled (25%) believe that the lawyer controls the outcome of cases to his advantage by artful and roundabout means without regard to what is actually right or wrong. (Deborah Rhode, 2008)

When lawyers are asked about their profession and their discouraging image, they respond in kind saying their bad image comes from the public. More specifically, because of bad press the public gets a less than fair view of the legal profession. The legal profession did their own research and found that most Americans, about 75%, have had direct communication with lawyers and more than a casual experience. It was found these are the people perpetuating a bad image. Also, corporate clients are credited with viewing lawyers as the worst maligners. On the other hand, all others who didn't have contact with lawyers got their information from the media and those opinions were favorable. So contrary to the lawyer’s belief, their own research proves the media created positive feelings.

It is true, lawyer's research of the media say they are often portrayed in a favorable light. Bad experiences reported in the media were related to the reality of the profession rather than its image. For example, in a profession always in a tug of war with what is right or wrong, someone will always turn out to be the bad guy or have the wrong opinion.

The legal profession research agrees with the public that there is tension between money and the legal system. Americans dislike the fact that lawyers can be bought for representation and good legal representation is accessible only to those who can pay. Over 75% of the legal needs of low-income households remain unresolved. About 75% of surveyed lawyers also believe that practitioners are overly concerned about their remuneration. Their image is a long way from being repaired. While many things are agreed upon from the two different perspectives, too many problems with the nature of the profession cannot easily be changed.

1 Deborah Rhode, Expanding the Role of Ethics in Legal Education and the Legal Profession, Professor of Law at Stanford University

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