It seems my karma of the last 30 years is to be tracked by a series of lawyer jokes.  There is a deep cultural angst about lawyers:  we love them, hate them, hold them in high regard, and villify them.  We don’t seem neutral about them.I confess, I am not neutral about them either.  The fact is that they are part of my professional family.  I should not be neutral.  Like any family, we are a mix of the healthy and the dysfunctional.  Becauses much of what we do is in the public eye, our flaws are all the more visible, as might be our occasional virtues.

I find reassuring that our great men, e.g., Lincoln or Adams, and our first African-American president, were first lawyers.  There is after all something good in the law, and good men seem to gravitate to it.  It is true too that scoundrels may seek to use the law for their purposes as well, but overall, it is our respect for the law, if not the the lawyers who apply it, that distinguishes us as a free people.

On a more mundane and personal level, I like the lawyers I work with generally.  They are far and away more intelligent, more articulate, and more disciplined than many of the other people I know.  They are steadfast in their work, and dependable generally.  They are able to deal with stressful and complex situations, and reach conclusions.  The best of them are people of both heart and brain, caring deeply.  Today, for example, I worked with a lawyer on a volunteer basis who is on a committee to select speakers for our professional organization.  He took inititative, he needed little monitoring or reminding, he located and selected outstanding speakers, and he was pleasant and responsive through it all.  And, he was not unusual–this attitude and diligence is typical of the twelve members on the committee.

If we as lawyers have a “PR problem” with the public, we probably deserve it, but not because of the failings of the majority, but the because the majority are not as visible in their virtues as the minority in their vices.  The fault is with us, as lawyers.  As a profession, we need a compelling vision of our elevated ethical and moral role in society.  We need to articulate and follow a vision of a high social calling of service, humanity, warmth, and compassion for fellow citizens.  Our essential flaw is our selfish pursuit of our own interests.  The public justly has come to distrust us if it thinks we are exploitive and abusive.

My professional organization, the Labor and Employment Law Section of the Orange County Bar Asssociation collects and delivers food each month to a county wide food bank.  Last month we collected toys and pledges for Children’s Hospital of Orange County.  As I get to know the members of the Section personally, I am discovering the goodness each of them brings to the network.  These persons are people of good character, and concern for others.  They are first persons with struggles and dreams, like us all, and then lawyers.

I think the public responds with strong negativity to lawyers at times because they want so to believe in us as “priests of the law.”  We lawyers are given monopolies, with special status and opportunity.  The public justly expects us to honor our position by “good work” and “noble actions.”  I can live up to that expectation.  So can my colleagues.  In fact, many of them do.