People Shouldn’t Hate Lawyers
According to a 2013 Pew Research survey on the professions that contributed most to society, lawyers placed dead last. Pew Research Business folks often hold a similar perception - lawyers don't add value but instead are costly and slow decision making.
Two things come to mind when thinking about my profession and our contributions.
First, lawyers take on your business’ problems. Sam Glover, lawyer, founder and publisher of Lawyerist explains it best in a post describing what it means to him when he is retained.
He explained that when a client hires him, he tells the client that their problem is now his problem, and he will solve it, one way or another. For Glover this means he wakes up at night in a cold sweat thinking about the case; he thinks about the case at dinner with his wife; and on the playground with his kids because it's his problem.
There are not a lot of professions that take on your problems like (good) lawyers do.
Lawyers contribute to society by identifying how much trouble you are facing or mitigating risks before trouble hits. We help solve problems. If that’s not contributing to society, what is?
But that’s not all. Lawyers don’t only take on your problem, but we also fight for you and defend you, no matter how hopeless it seems.
A story about Attorney Brian Stolarz demonstrates the fight a lawyer can bring, and the good they can do.
As the Washington Post explained:
“Brian Stolarz was a fast talking, wisecracking 33-year-old lawyer from New Jersey who’d arrived to take a case pro bono. Alfred Dewayne Brown was on death row for murdering a cop. Brown, mild-mannered, his voice barely above a whisper, insisted he was innocent. Stolarz looked in his eyes and believed him.”
So, Stolarz promised Brown he would get him off death row and out of jail - a promise that Stolarz did not know if he could fulfill at the time he made it. Remember attorney Sam Glover pacing his house in the dead of night in cold sweat over a client’s problems? Well, Stolarz felt the same way after his first meeting with Brown. He left and vomited in the parking lot because he was so nervous about making sure he did his client right.
Ultimately Stolarz deployed his legal skills in representing Brown: listening to Brown, investigating, filing motions, and arguing in court. As a result, the District Attorney determined there was insufficient evidence against Brown and he was released from death row and freed forever.
Stolarz fought for Brown, in a hopeless situation. Stolarz stood with his client and they both faced the death penalty together.
Most lawyers aren’t tasked with saving their client’s life. But Stolarz’s fight is every lawyer’s fight on some scale.
Even when the fight is not literally life or death, when you retain a lawyer, you are hiring someone who will stand and fight for you. And even when things don’t turn out well, if your lawyer stood with you and fought for you, you at least knew that you did what you could and that someone fought for your interests.
As far as I am concerned – lawyers add tremendous value to society, even when we lose.
Perhaps the reason why lawyers score the lowest on their contribution to society is because a lawyer’s value only surfaces when things are going to hell in a handbasket and nothing seems positive or constructive. It is precisely at that moment that lawyers make their greatest contributions. They take on their clients’ problems like Sam, Brian and all the other dedicated, empathetic, ethical, wicked smart lawyers I know. And then, we stand by you, we fight when it seems hopeless, and we make sure you are treated fairly.
That is a contribution to you, to your company, and to society.