ARTICLE PART II
Do lawyers deserve the proverbial "black eye" that we seem to have in the public eye?
I took an extra day to ponder the question because there is a bit more to it than simply accepting a perception that has carried on for as long as I can remember.
Persons reading this blog should keep in mind that I respect all opinions and while I may express my opinion in this particular blog article, we are as people ever changing and developing by our daily experiences and as a result our opinions and the underlying thoughts that form my beliefs today as a Rhode Island Lawyer may not be true at this time next year or even next month. That is, after all, one of the fascinating things about those who continue to grow and change. In each and every moment we are always evolving and never truly the same exact person from moment to moment. A bit deep I know, but interesting nonetheless.
So, what then is my thought process here as both an individual and a Rhode Island attorney?
As an individual I had the opportunity to be a layperson and try to represent myself in family court matters without any knowledge in family law. As an individual this also gave me the opportunity to watch and observe individuals, attorneys and judges in the family court system while I was waiting for my various hearing dates.
As a litigation paralegal (before I became an attorney) I had the opportunity to attend court, meet with judges, meet with clients, interview witnesses, attend hearings, participate in depositions, meet with court clerks and testify in cases in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. This experience was gained over about a decade and a half.
It is an interesting perspective to literally have the experience to have been on all sides of the coin where lawyers and the court system are concerned.
Yet what did I glean from this? From where I began as a novice to now being a practitioner of the law, what are my ideas, thoughts and opinions? Even if I were to express my opinions on Rhode Island Divorce Lawyers or Rhode Island Personal Injury Attorneys or Rhode Island Superior Court Trial Attorneys, would my ideas and opinions be tainted?
I can but say that my opinions are the sum total of my experience and since opinions are themselves subjective statements of what I believe that they are to some degree tainted. Unfortunately, opinions are by their very nature tainted.
I think many of us recall much more of the negative than we do the positive in life. If we receive 10 compliments during the day from co-workers and colleagues yet we receive one negative statement, we are more likely to remember the one negative statement. If anything this is something to keep in mind if you were to do your own analysis to reach your own opinion.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty is to address a group as a whole. In this case I have focused upon Rhode Island lawyers only because this is the demographic and geographic area that I form a part of and, of course, is the location where the little book of "500 Lawyer Jokes" began this whole journey into considering whether or not the perceived black eye that attorneys have in the eyes of the general public is one that has simply carried on as a matter of course or whether there might be a basis for its justification.
So, without further procrastination let me get to my thought process. Every since I can remember, even into my childhood, a good majority of jokes have been aimed at attorneys and the theme of those jokes has been their arrogance, greed and ability to skillfully lie and cheat. This is certainly not the picture that most lawyers would like to project for their Rhode Island law practice. Clients buying into this mantra of jokes most assuredly do not want to pay hundreds of dollars per hour for a professional to potentially swindle them out of their hard earned money.
As a litigation paralegal for many years (with various employers) I had the opportunity to see several attorneys blatantly violate the Professional Rules of Ethical Conduct as if they didn't exist. I've had the unfortunate displeasure to see practices that equate to double billing a client or in the very least overbilling the client.
As a litigation paralegal I have been asked by attorneys to tamper with court files and demanded to violate criminal laws. I am happy to say that in each case I found a solution that was within ethical and moral parameters that did not violate any criminal laws nor did my subject any attorneys to disciplinary action though I cannot say the same for the rebukes I received for not "doing what I was told".
I have now been a practicing attorney for some time. Though I focus my practice in the areas of Rhode Island Divorce and Family Law Issues, I take on various other cases that I am equally capable of handling and do so with considerable zealousness for my clients. My adventures into the practice of Rhode Island law have taken me before most of the Rhode Island Small Claims, District, Family and Superior Courts.
In the time I have been practicing I have filed and/or joined in two discipinary complaints to Rhode Island Disciplinary Counsel for conduct that I felt was so horrendous by an attorney that it should not go unanswered. The first complaint which I believe was replete with evident violations was dismissed without an opportunity for hearing, a result that I found professionally offensive as a legal practitioner and personally offensive as a citizen of Rhode Island. The second complaint is in the filing stage and I am hopeful that it will be taken with the seriousness it deserves despite the fact that it does not rise to the magnitude of the previous complaint.
This is not to say that any opinion should be based upon two such instances by two attorneys that I may personally believe are "bad eggs" that give us a bad name. Yet the opinion I reach personally is based upon more than simply my experience in these two instances and my exposure as a paralegal to conduct that I found personally repugnant and in some instances would have placed me and one or more attorneys in violation of federal criminal laws were it not for my quick thinking on various alternatives that were morally acceptable and professionally ethical.
In reflecting on my current opinion, that lawyers and attorneys (and in this case Rhode Island lawyers and attorneys-at-law) do in fact deserve the long standing black eye that is perceived by the public, I must credit my last three (3) years while practicing law in Rhode Island.
During my past three years I have watched and listened. On several occasions in several courts I have witnessed judges who refused to give litigants a hearing on a particular matter or otherwise arranged their calendars in such a fashion that litigants were put off so long or prejudiced by so many continuances that it prohibited them from having access to their witnesses and evidence became stale.
I have witnessed attorneys who make one representation to me outside of the judge's hearing and then either go into open court or in a chambers conference with a judge and make a completely opposite representation to the court. I have had occasion when attorneys made material misrepresentations to a judge in order to prejudice my client when they had no factual information for making their "factual" statements when they were just machinations contrived by one party to injure the other party.
I have witnessed attorneys who have gone before the court on behalf of their client against an individual who was representing himself or herself and allowed material omissions to be left out before the judge such that the person who was acting "pro se" was either prejudiced, "locked up" for contempt, or otherwise injured when such injury would not have occurred if the individual had enough money to afford an attorney.
Perhaps most significantly are the number of times I have had the opportunity to witness attorneys lie to judges on the record of the court by making factual statements and representations as counsel (not under oath) when they know full well that the truth is easily verifiable but that the verification could not be accomplished at the time that the representations are being made and the damage is already done.
It could well be that I am painting a bad picture of attorneys and the judicial system both in Rhode Island and in other states. This is not particularly my intention in making this expression and in discussing my own opinion on the subject. It is with considerable disappointment and even anger at times, that I must admit that my chosen profession may well be deserving of the black eye that the public has perceived for so long.
Perhaps this blog article is self-serving, though that is far from its intention. It is with a great degree of passion and enthusiasm for my clients that I confirm for you that there ARE good Rhode Island lawyers out there that do care about their clients and they do, in fact, act professionally, ethically and in line with the best interests of their clients.
Obviously there are more attorneys in Rhode Island than I could survey or even know on such an indepth level that I could give with mathematical certainty whether there are truly a majority of good attorneys out there or, conversely a majority of poor practitioners hellbent on their own goals and income.
My law practice continues and I am truly hopeful that my opinion will change as my exposure to more and more attorneys broadens, yet in the past three years the negatives outweigh the positives at least 4 to 1 as between what I can only refer to as reputable practitioners versus disreputable ones.
I can but hope that client's will continue to find me or that if I am not the practitioner with the "right fit" for the client that I can, in the very least, steer the prospective client to a reputable practitioner who will protect their interests (both legal and non-legal) and do it right and for a reasonable fee.
Does the Rhode Island legal profession deserve the black eye that is perceived by the public? As of today, with my current experiences . . . I'm sorry to hold the personal opinion that we do.
Unprincipled attorneys should be the exception. . . . not the rule.