Vail Daily column: Lawyers — on the wings of vultures?
April 16, 2014
I'm with you. I hate it when lawyers pander.
Truth be told, though, I kinda hate pandering altogether, whether it be for Sprite, Downey fabric softener or Pampers.
That said, however, I disagree with a recent letter writer to the Daily who seems to think that all lawyers are creatures from the deep. Or to quote the letter-writer more precisely, "vultures."
While I suppose the letter-writer is entitled to his opinion, I, for one, respectfully disagree; lawyers are not like vultures. There, I feel better already. In fact, some lawyers I know are pretty decent folks.
FOR PROFIT OR TO HELP People?
The particular bone the letter-writer had to pick was with Malaysia Air Flight 370 and how some (mind you some, not all) lawyers were lining up to pick over … well, sadly, over just what we still don't know. According to the writer, this tiny subset of lawyers were "jostling for position to profit handsomely from the loss and suffering stemming from the mysterious disappearance of (the flight)."
That's one way to look at it, I suppose. Perhaps another is that at least some of the lawyers want to help the families in their time of grief, to find compensation where, perhaps, the family bread-winner was lost. Perhaps too what at least some of the lawyers are doing is simply trying to get answers. In any event, lawyers don't exist in a vacuum; ours is a litigious society.
BLAMING THE GROUP
I think the writer has fallen victim to the broad-stroke mentality where, when one is offended by this-or-that action of a small minority, it is facile to blame an entire innocent cadre. Isn't this, after all, akin to racism? A particular segment of a group or class perhaps does something distasteful, and suddenly the whole group is at fault. To me it smacks, too, of the kind of hyperbole where, for example, a minor bureaucrat blocks your path — say at the DMV — and suddenly, in your mind anyway, he or she's a Nazi.
Such name calling seems not only just a little shrill but also just a tad unfair. It also minimizes the true horror of what Nazism really was or what comparing someone to a vulture means.
The writer also claims that a 2013 Pew Research poll found that people ranked journalists, business executives and lawyers unfavorably in an opinion poll. Presuming that may be true, I'm scratching my head to figure out precisely what it means. Now, I understand it's sort of a silly comparison, but wasn't Jesus generally unpopular, didn't many want Abe Lincoln's head and wasn't Gandhi scorned?
The point is not that I'm trying to compare Lincoln, Gandhi or Jesus of Nazareth to lawyers — God forgive me, no. The point is that: one, popularity is a weak metric by which to make a point; and, two, one can pick and choose what one likes, leaving aside a sea of other relevant points and statistics. This pick-and-choose way of arguing proves little, if anything at all.
LAWYERS DOING GOOD
For example — forgive my math — there have been about a billion philanthropic lawyers throughout history to say nothing of those lawyers who labor — often will little pay and little thanks — promoting issues such as social welfare, civil rights, environmental health, protection of the poor and other noble causes than the letter-writer and I could count together on our toes and fingers. Look no further if you will, than attorneys laboring for the various district attorney offices and attorney general offices throughout these Unites States or for the United Nations, International Courts of Justice, or about a million nonprofits. Are these guys vultures, too?
The writer holds that "66 percent of the attorneys on the planet" live among us in the U.S. I haven't fact-checked this particular gem but let's presume it's so. First, though, is that the fault of lawyers or the function of the most vital economy ever known to mankind? I note that if there was not the demand, there would not be the supply. In Haiti, I presume — one of the most impoverished nations on earth — there are fewer corporate mergers to broker than in New York and, accordingly, a comparative dearth of lawyers. I presume, too, the unfairness of the world being what it is, there are likely fewer doctors, teachers, journalists and business executives.
Secondly, and importantly, relatively few lawyers are litigators, what appears to be the subspecies upon which the writer slapped the vulture tag. In fact, most lawyers never see the inside of a courtroom in their lifetimes. So even accepting that the vulture tag may fit the subset of litigators, that's only about 5 percent of the Bar. And I would venture that of that 5 percent, only a tiny slice is ghoulishly hustling for business.
RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT
In this state, as in all others, lawyers are bound by Rules of Professional Conduct. If a lawyer violates the rules, she can lose her license to practice. There are rules for nearly everything dealing with professionalism and ethical conduct. I, myself, spent 14 years as a member of the State Bar Ethics Committee, a board of lawyers who helps the courts and Legislature develop ethics policy.
It is worth noting, that, besides the thousands of other things contained within the rules, lawyers are encouraged to perform pro bono public service and many, many lawyers that I know quietly do. There are also strict proscriptions concerning advertising and solicitation of clients.
While I don't doubt that some lawyers step over the line — in what profession is that not the case? (it seems to me there's been a recent rash of child-molesting coaches, priests and teachers) — and while I do not doubt that owing to what is probably disproportionate hubris among litigators, washing all lawyers with the tag of being vultures is un-American, unfair, facile, and, frankly, simply mistaken.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.