I wish this were not the case, but far too many lawyers suck. You'd think that the fact that you have to take an exam and get licensed would weed out those who suck, but the bar exam is more like a hazing ritual than anything that actually tests how good a lawyer you are. Sure, some measure of intelligence is measured by the exam as well as knowledge, but given that you can take it over and over until you pass, and given that it doesn't really test how you actually perform as a professional lawyer, any weeding it does is limited, at best.
Theoretically, since another requirement is a law degree, then the degree itself would mean something, but really, it doesn't. Most so-called first tier law schools only teach about a year of actual law and the rest is useless theory that might excite law professors who never have to practice in the real world, but mean nothing to actual clients, the people we are supposed to be serving.
My school was much more practical, but even there, mostly what you learn is how to read cases and what the law is in the general sense in a lot of areas. With the exception of a handful of classes (which are not even available at most schools), nothing was practical. The way it used to be done, and apparently still is, is you get the degree, then you actually learn how to be a lawyer by practicing for an experienced attorney (like an apprenticeship) and only after doing that for a few years do you really know how to be a lawyer.
With the job market being total crap, a lot of people are graudating law school with no option but to try and hang their own shingle. Unless they've done some work (maybe in law school) for other attorneys, they really don't know what they are doing. But that's not really what I'm talking about here. That is just inexperience - and anyone who can actually keep a solo practice going for several years is probably going to learn enough to be a decent lawyer. And yet, far too many lawyers suck.
I know lawyers suck because, despite my thus-far limited experience, I've had to deal with far too many lawyers who do, in fact, suck. They write horrible briefs, raising bogus issues, or not properly developing the issues they do have. They raise the wrong issues. They make ridiculous arguments that anyone who actually paid attention in law school would know are laughable. And yet these lawyers stay in business.
I think the reason for that is partially explained by the fact that when someone needs a lawyer, someone who doesn't have use for one generally and may not even know any, there is no real good way to find one who is good. You can't go by TV ads. On top of that, once you have one, many people probably have no idea how to evaluate how good a job their lawyer is doing. For decades, it was actually illegal for lawyers to advertise. I thought that was crazy. I still do.
But I can't blame lawyers for all of this. I think there are lots of unscrupulous clients. People who engage in shady business and so need to hire a shady lawyer to try and cover for them. Or people who are just personally pissed off, like happens in divorce, who go through lawyer after lawyer as the good lawyers refuse to do what the client asks (since good lawyers have scruples), until finally the client finds a real asshole lawyer to do what the client wants. Maybe that is how bad lawyers stay in business. But you can't really blame lawyers in general for that. Well, you can - if lawyers don't proprely police their own. Which they probably don't as much as they should. Though plenty do get disciplined and disbarred, I think the ones that need it don't. Like prosecutors who abuse their power. Nifong was the exception, not the rule.
I think another explanation is our whole criminal system. First, it is set up to be woefully underfunded when it comes to paying for lawyers for defendants. Since the basic rule of economics holds: you get what you pay for, often such defendants get very shitty representation. The lawyers understandably can't afford to spend much time on the cases since they are paid only 5-10% what their time is actually worth. On top of that many lawyers who do take a lot of those do so because they aren't good enough to get the full paying work anyway.
Now, if the shoddy work actually led to discipline, that would be a reason to question all of the convictions - and we can't have that, so the bar just pretends that the work is acceptable for effective assistance of counsel and lowers the bar as far as it can to avoid having any defendants win conviction reversals based on ineffective counsel.
I really wish most lawyers didn't suck. And maybe most don't. But far too many do. I'm not sure what the solution to that is. I'm not entirely sure what the cause is, but I can speculate, as I have above. Maybe the first step is to fully fund public defenders and investigators for them, but that is a pipe dream. Maybe something can be done to allow people to really evaluate who is a good lawyer and who isn't, so the unitiated can make a good choice when deciding who to hire. There seem to be services out there that rate lawyers, but I think they are mostly seeking money from lawyers trying to promote themselves. But maybe there are good services out there, like a consumer reports on lawyers.
As a final note, I hope I don't suck as a lawyer. I'm pretty sure I don't.
4 years ago