An attorney has a tough job. We are the subject of thousands of jokes. I have heard that we have one of the highest substance abuse and suicide rates of all professions. Our profession, unfortunately, has diminished on the scale of respectable professions. It puts us in a tough position.
Our oath says, "I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay anyone's cause for lucre or malice. So help me God."
However, another part of the oath says, “I will not counsel or maintain any suit or proceedings which shall appear to me to be unjust, nor any defense except such as I believe to be honestly debatable under the law of the land”
Can you see our predicament? On one hand, we cannot reject the cause of the defenseless, and yet we cannot maintain a suit that is defenseless.
It gets worse. For some attorneys, when they win, the losing party will threaten or file a formal complaint against the attorney. For some attorneys, when they lose, their own client will file a bar complaint and then contest the payment due to the attorney. Then the same client will come back asking for more help.
So what are we? Are we the protectors of the justice system? Are we officers of the court? Are we mercenaries that will take almost any case for pay? A mixture?
I would suggest that we are all of the above. I think the best example is in criminal law. The state attorney has a dual obligation to the citizens of the state of Florida and to the victim. Sometimes the victim wants the defendant prosecuted, but the state attorney does not have enough evidence to prosecute and therefore has an ethical and professional responsibility to drop the case. Sometimes the victim does not want the case to proceed, but the state attorney has an obligation to the citizens he or she serves to continue with the case for the protection of the general public.
The public defender likewise is in a tough situation. The public defender may absolutely believe that some defendants are absolutely guilty, but the public defender knows that the state may not be able to prove its case. The public defender then must defend a guilty defendant because that is what the law requires.
Please do not get me wrong. Bad attorneys, like bad doctors, and bad (insert any other profession here), should give up and go to another profession. Often times, however, a good attorney with tough facts or a tough case is forced to defend his or her actions at great expense simply because the outcome of the case did not come out as the client — or worse, the other party — expected.
My identity crisis is that I cannot bring myself to suggest that there is a social solution to our bad reputation. A lawsuit is as stressful as almost all other major life-changing events in a client’s life. I will suggest, however, that most of the attorneys that I have the honor of litigating with and associating with are an asset to our judicial system and serve as positive contributors to our community.
I enjoy good (clean) attorney jokes. Feel free to email them to me with future story ideas.