Daily Dispatch

Nothing But the Ruth!

Fight the Lawyer Stereotype

By | Jan.14.15 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice, Nothing But The Ruth!, Professionalism

Nothing But the Ruth

Talk of New Year’s resolutions has inspired me to think about lawyer stereotypes and what we should be doing to combat them. If the legal industry had a resolution, I hope it would be to work on its image problem.

In my experience, when people hear the word “lawyer,” they think “stuffy, boring, conservative, narcissistic, ambulance-chasing jerk.” For some lawyers, the depiction is completely accurate. Unfortunately, their bad reputation has spread to all of us who practice law. Most of the lawyers I’ve met — and all the ones I associate with and refer work to — don’t fit that description. And for the record, I don’t either. Having to constantly fight the stereotype is annoying.

Lawyer as Caped Crusader

Wouldn’t it be great if people could easily separate the “good guys” from the “bad guys,” just like comic book characters? The good lawyers have integrity, care about client service and want to use their expertise to help people fix problems. Yes, they may be as expensive as the bad guys (or more expensive), but sometimes you have to pay for quality.

If you think about it, in lots of ways, the good-guy lawyers are like Batman: intelligent, with strong research skills, enough money to buy the latest gadgets and a genuine desire to help people. We don’t have magical powers, and we can’t make things go our way with a snap of our fingers. We’re also not self-serving (well, no more than anyone else) and don’t see other people as objects to use to get ahead.

In my wacky little world, good-guy lawyers would adopt the practice of hanging a cape behind their office door, alongside their backup blazers. That way, prospective clients and others could see exactly who they were dealing with. Of course, good guys wouldn’t be allowed to get their own capes — they would be given out by other good guys in the legal profession. Likewise, capes could be taken away if good guys were to go to the dark side and turn into jerks. (If capes aren’t your thing, I’d also support the use of green light sabers.)

Even if we don’t get capes or light sabers, I’d love to see the profession do some damage control on its image. We should be highlighting what’s progressive in the field of law and the good that lawyers do for their communities — in and out of the courtroom. We should also do more to reward lawyers whose hearts are in the right place, and to discourage arrogance and disrespectful behavior throughout the industry.

Our mantra for 2015 should be: “Be a legal badass without being an asshole.”

Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her law practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Ruth is the author of the ABA book “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” Follow her on Twitter @rbcarter.

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3 Responses to “Fight the Lawyer Stereotype”

  1. DiAnne Moore
    14 January 2015 at 8:33 am #

    Wow! This is not my perception or definition of Lawyers! What one reads and hears gives off a self image that is difficult to shake. Let me give a shout out this year to these descriptiors for lawyers. Bright — self-starters – creative problem solvers — intense and passionate — community oriented – classy – sophisticated —
    Well educated (go ivy). My list could go on some–
    This year is for women to set up their leadership goal setting / agendas and to find sponsors. So let’s see some hands in the air now to volunteer and sponsor the young attorneys be they ones you know or discover this year! Let’s this be a year where you take on that goal to explore an art. — creative writing. — playing the piano. – through artistic writing we can clear out all the words thst steal away our joy! Wishing all a year of joy and surprises!

  2. Jacob
    14 January 2015 at 10:43 am #

    Ruth,

    How would you suggest we discourage this type of behavior? Any ideas on how to go about it without becoming one of the “bad guys”? I have encountered a few of these lawyers in my area and I have a difficult time dealing with their behavior. They are rude, combative, unresponsive, and difficult to work with. I feel that they don’t care about remaining professional, unless it benefits them in front of a judge. Where do we start with reshaping the image of the profession?

    Thanks!

  3. Ruth Carter
    14 January 2015 at 3:48 pm #

    Jacob – I’m not sure what the answer is but given that the law is a self-regulating profession, the change needs to come from within. Firms and law schools should no tolerate bad guy behavior. Don’t refer work to them. Don’t vote them into positions of power. Don’t hire them. Inform potential clients that they don’t have to settle for a jerk attorney. It should be more permissible to call out bad behavior on Yelp, Avvo, or wherever else reviews can be posted.


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