Like most lawyers, I have a collection of lawyer jokes at the ready. What do you call 1,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start. Why won’t sharks attack lawyers? Professional courtesy. What’s the difference between a snake in the middle of the road and a lawyer in the middle of the road? There are skid marks in front of the snake.
In terms of popularity, we’re not high up there. And I get why. There are a number of notorious folks in our ranks who have gone above and beyond to give us a bad name.
Lawyers, however, are like any population of people. Most of us are just normal, average folks trying to get on with our days. At the end of one scale are brilliant people doing brilliant things. At the other end of that scale are incompetent people blustering through and committing malpractice. At the top of another scale are deeply moral and committed people who are using their legal ability to fight for the underdog and the rights of the downtrodden and underserved. At the bottom of that scale are folks who will do anything to cram dollars in their pockets, no matter the ethical questionability of the act. Sometimes these lines intersect.
In the middle are the rest of us. We’re not especially brilliant, nor are we dull. We try our best. We aren’t shady and scamming people out of money, but we work hard to earn what we have and do our best to represent our clients. Most of us never have the opportunity to change the world through the law, but all of us have the opportunity to change the life of one client.
And here’s the thing: you can like us or dislike us, consider us a necessary evil or a blessing, but we are useful.
I cannot tell you the number of secrets I keep, buried deeply beneath a practiced poker face.
I cannot tell you the number of phone calls I have gotten from people who are at their saddest and most helpless, asking the most basic of questions, “What do I do?” And the thing is, I might not be the most emotionally intelligent person in the world, but on a very practical level, I know exactly what to do. Like every other lawyer, I know what to do when someone dies suddenly, with or without a plan. I know what to do when you catch your spouse cheating. I know what to do when you find someone you love in intensive care and you cannot figure out how to make sure their mortgage gets paid. I know what to do when you are rear ended in a car accident; and I know what to do when you are the one who did the rear ending. I know what to do when your child is arrested at three in the morning.
It is the rare exception when someone says to themselves, “I am having a fantastic day. I need to call my lawyer!” As a general rule, people come to us at their worst, or, if not at their worst, at times of high stress and anxiety. People pay lawyers not only for our knowledge but to take the burden off their shoulders. “What do I do if he…?” “You tell him to call your lawyer. I’ll handle it for you.” The relief is palpable.
So, make fun of us if you like. I do – as part of my budding stand-up act I include a number of self-deprecating lawyer jokes. Most of us do battle every day and are so calloused we don’t have skin, we have rhino hide. We can take a joke. But don’t really hate us, and don’t cut us down or cut us out. There will come a time when you will need to know: “What do I do?”
Nothing in this article is to be construed as legal advice. It is being offered for informational purposes only.