Following up on my recent discovery of the remarkable correlation between clinical depression and lawyering, I want to explore why lawyers are widely hated.
The explanation, actually, is rather simple.
Any time there is a legal conflict, there are generally two different stories to be told. For every person who thinks he was screwed by his business partner, there is a partner who thinks she was fair and bent over backwards to make things right. For every angry car owner who thinks the insurance company stuck it to him on her automobile hail damage claim, there is an insurance adjuster who is certain the owner lied to him about prior damage to the vehicle. For every divorced parent who thinks their former spouse was abusive to her child, there is another parent who has an explanation for his conduct that seems perfectly reasonable.
To make matters worse, it is human nature to have a difficult time accepting that there are two sides to a story. And the more that is “at risk” in maintaining our own story (for example, if it means that – if my story is “wrong” – I might go to prison or that I might be found to be negligent in a public courtroom or that I might lose custody of my child), the more “certain” we tend to become that we are right and someone else is wrong. We toss aside all of the shades of grey that we can normally appreciate when we don’t have as much at stake, and we instead opt for a bizarre set of lenses that render their world into the conveniently segmented categories of black and white, right and wrong, truth-tellers and liars.
When people start telling me about their legal disputes, I sometimes notice that they become uncomfortable because I don’t seem sufficiently upset at the “obvious” injustice of their situation. In truth, I’m often mulling through the facts that I’m hearing, wondering what the other side of the story might be.
Because one thing is for certain. There is another side to all of this that I am hearing, and its not being told at the moment.
It is at those times that I become acutely aware of the main reason people hate, despise, and even loath lawyers. Just about every person who has ever been to Court wearing their their black-and-white lenses has encountered a lawyer on the other side who obviously knows “true” story, and who is clearly lying and setting aside her own personal ethics to support a “story” that is wrong. All for the sake of making a buck.
If you thought someone was doing something like that, you’d be challenged not to bemoan their obvious sleaziness yourself, wouldn’t you?
The mass media industry of TV, film, and publishing doesn’t help, of course. In their industry, there is only one story to be told, and that story becomes all the more interesting when you can add an overpaid, unethical character to the “wrong” side of that story, agitating the conflict for the sake of personal gain.
Then there are the politicians. Lawyers are easy political targets. Half of us are vilified as ambulance chasers who conspire with our clients to lie to juries so that we can both become rich. The other half are portrayed as soulless servants of big businesses and the insurance industry. Even lawyers themselves are pretty good at directing these sorts of barbs at each other.
But that only explains why people don’t like someone else’s lawyer. It doesn’t explain why people tend to dislike their own lawyer (which they often do).
I’ll try to get to that answer in a post or two.