Negative Preconceptions of Lawyers

scales of justiceThis semester in Professor Lisa Mazzie’s Advanced Legal Writing: Writing for Law Practice seminar, students are required to write one blog post on a law- or law school-related topic of their choice. Writing blog posts as a lawyer is a great way to practice writing skills, and to do so in a way that allows the writer a little more freedom to showcase his or her own voice, and—eventually for these students—a great way to maintain visibility as a legal professional. Here is one of those blog posts, this one written by 2L Desiree Geromini.

Being a lawyer comes with many associated preconceptions and many are not very positive. Though this is the case, from my experiences and discussions with fellow aspiring attorneys and those already in practice, the main motivator for entering the legal field is the desire to make a positive impact in people’s lives. In thinking about this discrepancy in public opinion and the motivating factors behind practicing and aspiring attorneys’ decision to become lawyers, it made me think about what I can do to spur a more positive spin on the profession.  Though this is an uphill battle, the best plan of action I can think of is to use my voice to initiate open conversations with friends, family, colleagues, clients, and anyone who is willing to listen.

Because the legal field appears to be isolated from people’s everyday lives and only becomes relevant when there is a problem, most people’s experiences with lawyers are limited to big news stories or daytime dramas, which, unfortunately, do not always reflect positively on the profession. Though unfortunate, when such stories come about, I feel this is where actively initiating conversation is most necessary.

Based on personal experience and conversations I have had with my family and friends, most people do not realize how varied the legal profession really is and how much it impacts day-to-day life, be it through warning labels, employment agreements, or, generally, how we interact with each other. Having the opportunity to go to law school has opened my eyes to the importance of the profession. As I plan to spend the rest of my working years in this profession, I have tried to show my family and friends, at the very least, that lawyers are not just a bunch of liars; we are engaged in a helping profession and our main purpose is to problem solve and advocate for our clients, not to manipulate situations for our own monetary gain.

Besides starting conversation with others, as law students and legal professionals, engaging in pro bono activities is a good way to shed light on the core purpose of being a lawyer. By engaging in pro bono work, we are exposed to a wide variety of people and legal issues. Often, individuals who seek out this type of help do not have a lot of experience with attorneys and in some cases may have negative perceptions of the profession.

In these situations, it is especially important to inform and make sure the client understands that the underlying motivation behind the legal profession is to help. This is especially important in certain types of pro bono (i.e., domestic violence victims and undocumented immigrants). Like a mentor once described it to me, it is often those who are in the most need of help who do not seek it out for fear of the process. By ensuring we provide quality service and show that there is a positive underlying motivator, we are both promoting the profession while helping to foster a more positive viewpoint.

Overall, engaging in the legal profession comes with all kinds of expectations and preconceived roles; it is up to each individual lawyer to determine how she will use her voice to move the profession forward. This brings us back to my main point of starting conversations: when engaging in pro bono work or simply engaging in a discussion over dinner, we are given the opportunity to change the public perception of the profession, one conversation at a time.

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