I Googled lawyer jokes, and there are literally hundreds of jokes ranging from the mild to the downright gruesome. These jokes oftentimes end up with the attorney being shot, run over or ending up at the bottom of the ocean.
For example: “What would you call 1,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?” to which the response is “A pretty good start.”
So I am curious as to why there are so many jokes about lawyers. While some lawyers find no issue and do not take these jokes seriously, I think the jokes are indicative of an overarching sentiment revolving around how the legal profession is viewed by the public. Where did this perception of lawyers come from and can it be reversed?
As a young attorney, I truly take pride in my profession. In fact, after I passed the bar exam and was sworn in, I would proudly announce to anyone who would listen that I was an attorney.
I do not know if this pride has made me somewhat more hyper-aware of the stereotypes surrounding lawyers or if the lawyer jokes are getting worse, but the legal profession as a whole is not highly regarded by the general public.
According to Deborah Rhode in her 2002 Ethics presentation “Expanding the Role of Ethics in Legal Education and the Legal Profession,” over three-fifths of Americans believe that attorneys are greedy people, two-thirds think they are no longer “seekers of justice,” and one-fourth believe lawyers inappropriately “manipulate the legal system without regard to right or wrong.”
This public perception of lawyers has only worsened in the past 10 years. In a poll by Gallup in 2012, people were asked to rate “the honesty and ethical standards of people in ... different fields” and lawyers were nestled in between state governors and insurance salespeople on the lower third on the poll.
What happened to the legal profession causing it to earn to its infamously poor reputation, and what steps need to be taken reverse this perception?
In my humble opinion, the root of problem stems from the lack of professionalism that regrettably is pervasive throughout the legal profession. This lack of professionalism seeps into the public sentiment causing a ripple effect. If lawyers don’t/can’t trust each other, why should the public trust us at all?
When my grandfather started practicing law in the 1950s, he knew every single attorney in the Blue Ridge Circuit and probably knew their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and so on. The legal profession was a small, tight-knit community where your word was your bond. Now, the legal field is saturated with lawyers. We are a dime a dozen.
And with our growing numbers, the legal profession loses a vital piece of the professionalism puzzle. We lose accountability.
Similar to the phenomena surrounding anonymous posting on the Internet, the legal community’s’ numbers have become so vast that we simply do not know the opposing counsel, and furthermore, we may never encounter opposing counsel professionally ever again.
Unfortunately, this can lead to unprofessional conduct which only serves to perpetuate the perception that lawyers are greedy manipulators of the systems who do not care about right or wrong.
While identifying a least a portion of the problem causing the public perception of lawyers to falter is easy, finding a suitable solution is much harder.
How do you promote professionalism in a system known for being adversarial by its very nature? I’m not going to pretend to have the answer or the solution for this problem. I think professionalism in the legal field is an on going struggle wherein people’s ideas of what it means to be professional differ vastly, but I think being aware that the problem exists and discussing it openly are the first steps in making a change for the better.
Furthermore, I think accountability is the key if we lawyers are ever going to change our public image. My hope is that someday we gain the trust of the public, and in the future the lawyer jokes become a little milder and a bit less grisly.
Personally, I prefer the joke about the priest, the rabbi and the sailor.
Abigail Roach is the newest associate at Roach, Caudill & Gunn. She was born and raised in Canton and proud to be a Canton Greenie. Abigail is a third generation Roach practicing law in Canton and hopes she can fill the shoes of her grandfather and father.