Lawyers in general, and plaintiffs’ lawyers in particular, serve a vital societal function. Their work has resulted in, to name just a few examples, the proliferation of civil rights, safer products, and safer business practices in general. As a plaintiffs’ lawyer, I am proud to be a part of, and contribute to, that process.
Yet, plaintiffs’ lawyers are often referred to in derogatory terms (e.g., “ambulance chaser”) and, as a routine internet search might suggest, have a less-than-stellar reputation.
So too, it seems, with criminal defense lawyers. During a recent online/Facebook “discussion” with a “friend” (of a Facebook “friend”), the subject of lawyers arose. This person – who claimed to “know how the law works” – expressed his dislike/disdain for lawyers.
I asked him why, noting that “lawyers are responsible for the civil liberties you enjoy every day.”
His response (edited for spelling, grammar, and readability):
[The statement that] “Lawyers are responsible for civil liberties”[ is] comed[ic]. Lawyers twist, fake, lie and put out sm[o]ke screens to get criminals out of trouble. For money. When was the last time you heard a lawyer start a trial with “Ladies and gent[le]men of the jury, my client is guilty. I just want to explain why they did it”. Nope. Everyone is inno[c]ent.
Now, I’m not suggesting that the commenter speaks for anyone but himself. That said, knowing that even one person thinks this way is disappointing.
Lawyers have a duty to competently and diligently represent their clients (NY RPC 1.1, 1.3), but this duty coexists with a lawyer’s duty to “not knowingly … make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal.” (NY RPC 3.3.) A lawyer who violates these rules is subject to discipline, including but not limited to disbarment.
Are there dishonest lawyers out there? Of course. Just like any group, there are some bad actors. Consider, for example: ex-attorney Morris Eisen, who allegedly used a shrunken ruler to exaggerate the size of street defects; Marc Dreier, a Harvard-educated (and now incarcerated) ex-lawyer; lawyers who steal from their clients; etc.
However, just as it doesn’t make sense to assert that all doctors commit malpractice, all police officers commit false arrest or police brutality (etc.), it likewise doesn’t make sense to impute the acts of a relatively small number of dishonest lawyers to all lawyers.
Turning back to the above comment, in our criminal justice system it is indeed true that “[e]veryone is innocent” until proven guilty by the appropriate burden of proof. Furthermore, a lawyer who announces to a jury that their “client is guilty” and that they “just want to explain why they did it” – assuming this is not during the sentencing phase of the case after an already-entered guilty plea or verdict – has likely provided ineffective assistance of counsel, committed legal malpractice, and/or put their law license at risk.
I would hope that if the above commenter ever serves on a jury they don’t hold the fact that the plaintiff (or, in the case of a criminal trial, the accused defendant) has retained counsel – who, like any professional, works “[f]or money” – against them.
While some may want to “kill all the lawyers”, Shakespeare’s view is undoubtedly the correct one.