Do Lawyers Have a Negative Image Problem?

Post by Randall Ryder

The number of serial-crime dramas on TV seems to be consistently increasing, yet the number of shows about attorneys appears to be decreasing. Although the Supreme Court and other high-profile cases seem to keep lawyers in the spotlight, are lawyers developing a public image problem?

We recently had our first child and during one of our days in the hospital, I left for an hour to teach a legal writing class at one of the local law schools. While I was gone, one of the nurses asked my wife where I was, and she told them I was an attorney and I was teaching my legal writing class. At that point, the nurses gave each other a nasty look and told my wife something like "I wish you hadn’t told us that, we do not like lawyers around here." The nurses then said it made them feel like they had to look over their shoulders and get stressed about doing their jobs.

When my wife told me the story, all I could was shake my head. First of all, as far as I could tell, we received great care and the staff was very helpful and hospitable. Second, I practice consumer rights law, not medical malpractice. Third, just because a person is an attorney that does not make them sue happy or constantly second-guessing others.

For the past couple of days, however, it has stuck in my head and made me wonder about the public image of lawyers. Do most people think that lawyers just file lawsuits regardless of the merits? Attorneys are required to make sure they think their suits and investigate facts before filing them; most attorneys I know are not fast-food restaurants that file lawsuits as soon as they can.

At the same time, it is usually the cases that have unusual claims that receive the most media attention and are likely to effect the general public’s perception. In other words, the public might be forming opinions based on what they see and hear, not based on what is actually occurring. In part, confidential settlements reduce the number of cases that can be talked about. In addition, as noted above, it is the highly unusual or unique cases (that many people feel should not exists) that receive the most media attention. This, in part, has helped created a negative perception of attorneys. 

What do you think? Do lawyers have an image problem? What can they do to fix it?



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