When Harvey Saferstein made his infamous plea in July to end lawyer-bashing jokes, he was unprepared for the ferocious attacks he and his profession would endure in response.
People harassed the California State Bar president with so many threatening phone calls and letters at his Los Angeles law firm that he posted a guard outside his door, he told Ventura County lawyers who gathered Tuesday to hear him speak.
Callers to radio talk shows took glee in telling their own lawyer jokes and trashing the profession. And pundits from Sacramento to Dublin, Ireland, took shots at Saferstein personally and professionally, he said.
But he does not regret his remarks, Saferstein said, because the resultant outpouring of hostility revealed a “deep-seated dislike and resentment of the profession.”
“It took remarks like mine to bring it to the attention of lawyers, as well as the public, that we better know where we are going as a profession.”
Saferstein’s remarks came during a noontime address to about 65 lawyers attending a luncheon put on by the Ventura County Bar Assn. His stop in Ventura County, where his topic was “Lawyers and Ethics,” is his last to a local bar association before his one-year term as head of the State Bar ends Oct. 8, he said.
Saferstein said attorneys need to examine why the public is so angry with them and determine what they can do to polish their image.
“This has been a huge wake-up call for the profession,” he said.
Saferstein said he decided to ask Americans to stop telling lawyer jokes in the wake of a mass killing July 1 by a lone gunman at a San Francisco law firm.
Three of the eight killed were attorneys. A letter found on the killer’s body indicated that he blamed lawyers at the firm for recent financial setbacks.
“This was a person who hated lawyers,” Saferstein said. “And he went straight to a law firm to take his revenge.”
Surveys show that Americans believe lawyers charge too much for legal services, Saferstein said. When people were asked to name professions in which they had confidence, attorneys rated “just above used-car salesmen,” he said.
He urged attorneys to take seriously the public’s distrust of lawyers.
“I think it’s high time we made big changes in the way we handle our business, the way we treat our clients and the way we charge our clients,” he said.