* In response to “Why Lawyer-Hating Is an American Pastime,” Opinion, Jan 16:
Lincoln Caplan’s column on lawyer-hating/bashing suggests the solution to the abuses by “win-at-all-costs” attorneys should start at the law firm. He identifies or defines the law firm as the legal equivalent of the family. Unfortunately, as in some families we grow up in, law firm families can be just as dysfunctional and produce menaces to the public good.
After working in the Los Angeles legal community for 11 years as a law librarian, I have experienced firsthand “the good, the bad and the ugly” at major firms which included Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, the subject of Caplan’s recent book. To expect a firm such as Skadden to take on the responsibility of improving the performance of the Bar is about as realistic as hoping all Los Angeles gang members will trade their guns for tickets to a Lakers game because the media ask them to. Both parties need outside reform and strong incentives to force abandonment of their respective weapons.
Perhaps a more realistic solution, which also includes lawyers, could be to ask corporate counsel, as clients, to take a close look at firms and the partners that manage and dictate the firm’s culture before selecting outside counsel. Abandon the win-at-all-costs (even the corporation’s and shareholder’s costs) law firms and do your next deal and litigation with a firm that will put the spirit of the law back into the outcome of the matter.
The process (any process) will be excruciatingly slow, but perhaps with one step, one deal, one settlement at a time the message will become clear to the legal world that private greed is not for the public good.
* As a legal-aid volunteer, I can attest that in this litigious society justice is available most often to those who can afford it.
Take, for example, the ever typical eviction case where a residence has uninhabitable conditions (e.g., mice, roaches, etc.). In most cases, a landlord’s attorney will urge his/her client to settle the case out of court by providing the renter with relocation assistance once it is known that the renter has legal representation. Cost-benefit analysis concludes that this course of action is the least expensive, and risk-free.
Indigent renters, however, end up being railroaded by the legal system because they cannot afford today’s exorbitant legal fees. Typically, these renters find out too late that simply bringing a picture of uninhabitable conditions to court may allow a judge to significantly reduce rent monies owed, and can even extend the payment due date. Money, therefore, is often the determining factor for accessing one’s rights.
Aversion for lawyers, and the feeling that the legal system has failed, should surprise no one.
NOEL L. SERRANO
* Caplan’s generally astute assessment of lawyers’ misbehavior fails to note its causes. Lawyers are rational. If they act in overreaching ways, it is not because they were corrupted in legal ethics courses but because such behavior pays off in practice.
Lawyers are supposed to be their clients’ paladins, doing what they can to win, but only within the rules. Those rules can only curb overreaching behavior if enforced by judges. But the cold fact is that many judges have grown insensitive to lawyers’ excesses. These days, case dispositions and litigation outcomes all too often seem to be of greater interest than adherence to rules of law--and that includes rules that govern proper norms of professional behavior.
Professor of Law Emeritus
Loyola Law School