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The Practice Corner: Our Own Worst Enemies

by Daniel DeWoskin
Trial Attorney

So is it just me? It cannot just be me. I take offense to lawyer jokes. I don’t make a scene or chastise anyone, but I never find them funny. At times, I point out that in a room full of people when I ask how many people have a low opinion of lawyers I see many, many hands go up. I then ask how many people would be proud of their son or daughter if they were an attorney and all the hands go up. I am proud to be an attorney and I still believe it is among the most honorable professions there is.

Now, while I do not necessarily dress down people who make lawyer jokes, I do take issue with lawyers who discourage others from becoming lawyers. We have all seen this. Some young person is talking about their intentions of taking the LSAT or becoming a lawyer and you hear another lawyer tell them not to do it. They may make a snide comment about going to medical school or doing something else, but they are as negative as they can be. Misery loves company, but this bothers me to no end.We do not have to preach or sell others on how wonderful and honorable it is to do what we do, especially if we don’t buy into that. However, it is unfair and deplorable when an attorney tries to impose his or her own dismal and negative outlook on another aspiring attorney. For one thing, it is not a joke. Some people who do not have lawyer relatives or who may not know many attorneys may take such idiotic remarks to heart. So, although there is no responsibility for us to affirmatively sing the praises of the practice of law, the wisdom of not saying anything at all when you have nothing nice to say is a good rule by which to live.

When I hear attorneys discourage young people from becoming lawyers, I am embarrassed for them and for all of us who practice law. We should be proud of what we do. We worked hard to get here. Many of us will pay loans for years and years and the very touchstone of our profession is integrity and honor. There is no shortage of unhappy attorneys, something I have addressed in previous articles. It is important that those of us who are proud of our work, of the service we do in our community, to share this and combat the ridiculous stereotypes that pollute the minds of so many people.

The damage that is created by our silence in situations like this is not limited to perpetuating age-old false notions about what we are. These negative stereotypes quietly take root and linger in the minds of those who may later become jurors, or perhaps need to rely on an attorney at some point. Thus, they make all our lives more difficult and make it tougher for people to trust their own attorneys when it may count most. We owe the public more than that.

We are often our own worst enemies when we have so many opportunities to change these negative images. Lawyer jokes will be around as long as there are attorneys. I understand that there are fewer jobs available than there are attorneys passing the bar, but that is not why most lawyers who discourage young people from going to law school do so. They do so because they like to hear themselves talk and to spread their negative outlook. It is insulting and unacceptable.

The next time you hear someone go into a tirade about how awful it is to practice law for the purpose of discouraging someone else, I urge you to follow it up by asking the young person about what they envision doing as an attorney. Ask them what kind of law they want to practice, what they find intriguing about being a lawyer, and then think of some of your colleagues and friends who practice in that area. Then, as you speak about your friends, you will likely find that the direction of the conversation will take on a much more positive and empowering tone.

This is how we should frame these conversations as people of integrity. It is not for me to tell everyone else how they should feel about what they do, but it is for me to defend a vocation that I have worked hard to achieve, one in which I strive to improve, and find both challenging and rewarding.

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