The public image of lawyers is at an all-time low. Less-than-flattering images of lawyers abound in advertising and entertainment.
In a popular beer commercial rodeo cowboys lasso a hot shot divorce lawyer and an overweight tax attorney. A hungry dinosaur devours a lawyer in the movie
. Members of O.J. Simpson's criminal defense team are lampooned and impugned with regularity.
Therefore, it is no surprise that Richard Pena, the new president of the State Bar, has made restoring public trust and confidence in the legal profession his No. 1 priority.
This is good if his goal is to prod the profession to become self-critical and heed the public's concerns. It is bad, however, if his intention is to use lawyers to defend lawyers and deflect criticism of our own embattled profession.
There is more to this public cynicism than sour grapes or lawyer bashing. The public is truly dissatisfied.
According to a National Law Journal poll of a few years ago, Americans believe that putting clients interest first, protecting citizen's rights, and effecting social change are all positive aspects of the profession.
However, the perceived preoccupation with money, the filing of too many unnecessary lawsuits and the manipulation of the legal system without regard to right or wrong have soured lawyers' overall impression.
Of course there will always be some criticism of lawyers as long as there are bad apples in the barrel and losers to lawsuits. The public's respect for lawyers and the rule of law will not increase, however, until we lawyers do a better job of listening to the public and policing ourselves; namely by reprimanding, suspending or disbarring the "bad apples." Short of that, any public relations push is only whitewash.
Pete Henk, General Counsel
Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse/Houston