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Are attorneys concerned about their stereotype?

Knoxville, TN |

I get the impression attorneys are defensive of each other's ethics, no matter how sleazy any of them are. The general public seems to view attorneys as being one of the sleaziest professions. I would think attorneys would want to weed out the bad apples to get a better image for attorneys in general, with the general public. But whenever I talk to an attorney about another attorney's ethics, that attorney becomes defensive, as if I were complaining about his own ethics. Can anyone explain that enough to make sense of it?

Attorney Answers 4

  1. People often become defensive when someone is speaking about them, it is simple human nature.

  2. Well, first, the attorney may regard what you're saying as one-sided, biased or gossip. If the latter, it may get back to the attorney who is being spoken of.

    Second, what you are saying might or might not be a ethical issue or violation. Sometimes it may just be an attorney who is doing a good job and playing by the rules, but he is just a lightening rod for criticism because he is representing his client well. For instance, in most matrimonial actions, the clients hate each others lawyers and think they are unethically playing "hardball", when in fact they are doing the client's business.

    Third, attorneys have a very strict and well-defined set of rules to determine what is ethical: the difference between a "fair ball" and a "foul ball", "penalty" or "hitting below the belt" to use a sports analogy. A contested litigation matter is a brawl hopefully conducted according to civilized rules with civility and courtroom decorum, but a brawl nonetheless. Many laypeople don't understand the rules or how they work and apply. We answer dozens of these questions on this website, and surprisingly, many things people perceive as ethical violations simply aren't.

    Lastly, no one is going to agree with a broad brush, derogatory term like "sleazy". And if there are some "sleazy" characters, attorneys aren't the only occupation with "bad apples in the barrel" and no morals, ethics or a selfish, unempathetic or psychopathic psychology.

    Unfortunately, to read the newspapers, this kind of "what's in for me" thinking rather than altruism or orientation for what's good for the community or nation is unfortunately pervasive in this culture at the present time, especially at the highest levels of business, government, the military and even academia. Very few occupations are viewed positively by the majority of the public.

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  3. You have asked a great question. All attorneys care about how the public views attorneys. Media makes attorneys look unsavory like the lawyer in Breaking Bad. As to your question about other lawyers ethics. I think most lawyers won't comment because they have not heard the other side of the story.

  4. Clients often describe any behavior they don't like as " unethical." But aggressive, hard-nosed, or stubborn tactics aren't necessarily unethical. So yes, we defend other attorneys who fight hard for their clients, because doing so isn't always "unethical."

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