About the Firm
"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
We have all heard this famous Shakespearian quote from "Henry VI." Unfortunately, that famous quote is often taken out of context. What Shakespeare was attempting to convey to his audience was that in order to ensure anarchy and tyranny, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." And although it is true that those seeking to dismantle the rights of citizens often foster dislike of trial lawyers, the real responsibility for the continuation of this aversion lies not with our adversaries, but with each and every one of us.
That's right, let's all look in the mirror. The reason it is so easy to bash the trial lawyer is because we have all, at times, provided the ammunition for people to do so. It has been said that the practice of law used to be a profession, then it became a job, and now it is a racket. And although you and I know that this is not true, in today's society perception is reality.
Who can forget the pivotal scene from "To Kill a Mockingbird" when, as Atticus Finch is leaving the courtroom having unsuccessfully defended a black man charged with a heinous crime, from the upper deck of the courtroom where the "colored folks" were forced to sit, a proud, distinguished black man says to Atticus' young boy, "Stand up son, your father is leaving the courtroom." Or how about the scene from "A Few Good Men" when Lieutenant Caffe turns to Corporal Harold Dawson as the corporal is being escorted out to be dishonorably discharged from the Marine Corps and said, "You don't need a badge on your arm to have honor, Harold." In response, Corporal Dawson salutes Lieutenant Caffe and says, "Attention — there's an officer on deck." What do both of these movies have in common? In both instances the lawyers are deemed worthy of respect because they earned it first.
There is a standing joke that the problem with lawyers today is that 99 percent of them ruin it for the rest of us. Why is that funny? Because it rings true. Members of our beloved profession ruin the image of lawyers by demanding respect without earning it first. You know the ones. They look down their noses at the rest of the world as if they have been ordained to some higher status in life. They take pride in using words that no one else can understand. They snicker at the masses who are at a disadvantage because they cannot navigate the waters of the legal system without the help of lawyers. Well, I for one am a believer in the maxim "You reap what you sow." If you act like you are better than every one else, you have no one but yourself to blame when everyone else snubs you.
In the mid-1960s, when the Perry Nichols firm was the standard bearer for plaintiff lawyers everywhere, lawyers in the firm were systematically fined $50 every time they uttered the words in a deposition or trial "prior to" instead of "before" and "subsequent" instead of "after." Perry Nichols was trying to teach his lawyers that no one, no matter how successful, should get too big for their own britches. After all, it is one thing to be confident, it is entirely another to be cocky. If you find yourself asking which image do my words project, then I submit to you that you already know the answer. As an old friend once told me, "When there is doubt, there's no doubt."
So, what is the answer to the dilemma? After all, we should take pride in our profession. "The Gettysburg Address" was written and delivered by a trial lawyer. The Emancipation Proclamation was penned by a trial lawyer. The famous and powerful words that brought a nation together in a time of adversity and uncertainty, "We have nothing to fear, but fear itself." came from the mouth of a lawyer. The examples go on and on.
The solution to reforming our image is simpler than we might think. We all need to learn to laugh at ourselves a little more and take ourselves a little less seriously. We must remember that our clients are remarkable people too. We should be proud of the work we perform, but always remember that our job does not define who we are. It is only one aspect of our make up. We are defined by the people we touch and the deeds we perform. No one, at the end of their life as they are lying on their deathbed, ever says, "If I only had one more day at the office." Rudyard Kipling said it best in his poem, "lf" when he said, "If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings, nor lose the common touch..."
The image of the lawyer has been shaped and reshaped for more than a thousand years. One person alone cannot change the image of all lawyers. But one lawyer can change their own image. As the poem says, "You tell on yourself by the friends you keep, by the very manner in which you speak." The greatest compliment you could ever receive from a client describing you is, "They started out as my lawyer and became my friend." If we all strive to earn this description, then we can rest assured that the image that each and every one of us sees when we look in the mirror each morning is the image we will have truly projected to the world.
So, in the end, Shakespeare was right--if we want tyranny and anarchy, the first thing to do is kill all the lawyers. Shakespeare paid each of us an awesome compliment and gave each of us a standing and a title. But with the title "Lawyer" comes a great responsibility - the responsibility always to humble thyself. If we can do that, then the image of a lawyer will never again be in jeopardy.