Monday, January 19, 2009

Far Too Many Lawyers Suck

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.


Erin said...

The teaching profession is exactly the same way. It's such an important job, but too many of us are morons, especially in the early grades. Education is one of those degrees you get if you're too vapid to do anything else. Or something for which you take 4 or 5 classes after you have another degree or profession and voila--now you're shaping young minds!
But even jumping through all the hoops of getting my BA in education, I still didn't have any idea what I was getting myself into until I got drafted, mid-year, into an at-risk middle school in North Las Vegas. They just don't teach you that stuff in school.
Unlike law, however, is that teachers--even bad ones--are desperately needed in lots of places, so anyone who can pass a TB test gets a job.

armagh444 said...

Maybe the first step is to fully fund public defenders and investigators for them, but that is a pipe dream.

I hate to say it, but it's a pipe dream. Here in Wisconsin, we've been trying to get a raise for private bar attorneys who take public defender cases for years (some day I'll post about the starvation wage billable hour I work at), and it is all to no avail. There's no constituency for it. Or, at least, there's no constituency that the politicians in the capitol care about.

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.

Every so often, when someone comes to me looking for a referral in a jurisdiction where I am pretty well clueless, I am stuck giving my "how to pick a good lawyer" speech. The biggest piece of advice I give is to call around, get quotes, and then close each conversation by asking the following question: "If you couldn't take the case, who would you refer me to?" If the same name comes up over and over again, it's generally a pretty good sign.

lupemom said...

There are too many lawyers, and the profession has sadly lost its prestige.

DBB said...

Given the number (and age) of lawyer jokes out there, I'd say the profession lost its prestige a long time ago.

And as I've said before, there is always a shortage of GOOD lawyers. The problem is finding one, particularly when you are not a lawyer yourself. (And even when you are).

Unknown said...

i want to know how in the f..k lawyers became exempt from professional liability/malpractice. they are the only profession that can f..k up a person's life worse than a doctor.slitemis

Unknown said...

I want to know why lawyers are exempt from liability/malpractice prosecution, when they have the ability to destroy someone's life, just as a physician does, if he/she get's it wrong?

DBB said...

Pat - I don't know what you are referring to - Lawyers sure as hell are liable for malpractice.

Edward Heyburn said...

I share your sentiments. I am a lawyer but I don't think I suck, my old firm sucks. I went out on a limb and dedicated a site to them. It is at They sued me and the story was picked up by the National Law Journal. Now I am in a case to prove that they suck. Too funny. I think the fact that you recognize the problem in the profession demonstrates that you do not suck. so, pick your head up and breathe out!

Unknown said...

I agree and would venture that all lawyers suck because the ones who are ethical do nothing to slap down the unethical ones, which far out number the former. Even worse, I would claim that lawyers have contributed to the economic meltdown by destroying individuals' faith in the system. If an individual is not secure in his or her rights or property, then he or she will not engage in financial ventures. As lawyers have shown individuals that no one will help them, and that they will spend their life's savings protecting themselves from frivolous even fraudulent suits, it triggers a freeze on activity, one by one, and this has been happening for decades and has finally hit critical mass.

Aileen said...

I come from a family of lawyers, both dad and brother. I used to think lawyers were the "good Guys" just like my dad. What a delusion that proved to be!!! My husband had a worker's Comp case where he had a BRAIN INJURY, and the g-d damn-- lawyers were so stupid they never went to court properly or argued for him. We changed lawyers 3 TIMES and the last one wasn't too much better than the first! The profession is so UNRESPECTED, and now unfortunately i understand why. Most lawyers are TOTAL LIARS, and they are supposed to be fighting for our rights. No wonder people are so cynical, they have no rights anymore in this quagmire of a legal system. It is only there for the rich and well-placed, other than that, just expect to get screwed, because that is exactly what will happen.

FunVideoLurker said...

Thomas Jefferson, even he, hated lawyers and pledged that they were parasites.

Just have to add that in there.

FunVideoLurker said...

Thomas Jefferson, even he, hated lawyers and pledged that they were parasites.

Just have to add that in there.

Melody Kramer said...

Agree! Absolutely agree! Would love to chat with you about my upcoming book "Why Lawyers Suck and What You Can Do About It" - would you be willing to share your insights?

Unknown said...

New Mexico lawyers suck, going to new Mexico! Bring your lawyer! All new Mexico (pay for) lawyers suck big time. Can't do simple, civil rights, wrongful arrest/imprisonment case! Run from it like a whining bitch! If there is s lawyer out there, thats gots stones hanging or a New Mexico lawyer that grew up and is going to do the "BIG BOY THING NOW" and take this case through to fruition with professionalism! , email me! Kelly need not apply, go back to your bottle!

Unknown said...

In Australia, Queensland’s Legal Services Commission publishes a brochure (The Application of the Australian Consumer Law to Lawyers) confirming that lawyers are subject to the Consumer Guarantee provisions of Australian Consumer Law (ACL) which provides for refunds, and as such are required to provide services with due care and skill, that are reasonably fit for their purpose and in a timely fashion, which means to avoid negligence.

Most lawyers think that they can charge for incompetent and negligent work and ignore consumer law.

Here is what one victim did about that: