Friday, November 1, 2019

Are All Lawyers Really Sleazes?


This year (2019), Love Your Lawyer Day falls on Friday, November 1. Because the three protagonists in my second novel are lawyers, I couldn't pass up this holiday. 

My book research took me face to face (or phone to phone) with three attorneys, all willing to share information and answer my questions. To my surprise, one interviewee noted upfront, "All lawyers are sleazes." Since he was in a position to know, he must have spoken the truth—or so I first assumed. Then I began to wonder. Were those words really accurate? Was he parroting a commonly held belief about his profession? Or was he being sarcastic? I don't know.

My personal need for those of the legal profession has been (gratefully) limited. However, my first experience seemed to bear out the sleaze designation. The man was nothing short of lecherous. Shocked and horrified at his unwelcome advances, I quickly left and never again visited his office alone. (Unfortunately, I'd already paid him, and it was decades before the Me Too movement.) 

A visit several years later was to a pro bono attorney after a contractor took all the money we had to build a home and filed bankruptcy. We filed a suit against him to get our money back, but the judge granted us only about half of it. I was unhappy with that, but our attorney told me I should be thrilled to have gotten anything because no one else who went after their money received a dime. Years later, another lawyer told me that pro bono attorneys are often the best around. Our free lawyer—the one I was unhappy with—had been one of the good guys.

My grandfather was an attorney. He earned his degree in the early 1900s but didn't practice law until he was 80 and his wife had died; my grandmother believed they couldn't count on a steady income in
the legal field. (His first case after her death netted him $5000, big money back in the day when he made it and many times more than he'd ever earned in any other occupation.) Grandpa was one of the most sincere, honest, humble people I've ever known; his integrity was always above reproach. Another vote for the good guys.

Back to my novel. Honest, caring attorneys make great protagonists, but sleazy ones add spice to a story. So my three (one legal aid lawyer, one defense attorney, and one prosecutor) are good guys. However, a member of the prosecutor's team is not so much. His ability to become a thorn in the sides of the others makes him a viable character and is my nod to the sleazes who tarnish the scales of justice.


What has been your experience with lawyers? Do you ever include them in your stories? Do you enjoy reading "legal eagle" books by authors like John Grisham?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and thrillers. You can contact her at websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

12 comments :

  1. I haven't met too many lawyers, but I do love reading legal thrillers, especially where the lawyer is a hero instead of a crook. :D

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    1. Me, too! Most of mine are hero types. Only one bad apple appears in my latest story, and he's not one of my three protagonists.

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  2. I'm an attorney and my mother assures me I'm not sleazy (I work for Legal Aid now). She had her doubts when I was a criminal defense attorney, until I explained that nearly all my clients were good people who had made a bad choice on possibly the worst day of their lives. I made so little money back then that I also worked at the local mall in a card shop. When I was an assistant district attorney, I saw way more sleazy acts committed by rabid prosecutors than I ever saw from members of the criminal defense bar.

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    1. Your comment made me smile. As for sleaziness in the legal profession, that assessment came from an attorney, not from me. But it did make me wonder until I remembered that sleazes can appear in any occupation or profession. It's the person, not the job. Kudos to your mother for assuring you that you're not sleazy. Your choice to work as a legal aid attorney and help those who cannot afford typical legal fees speaks volumes about your reason for being a lawyer. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. :-)

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  3. I used to work as a PA for lawyers and I know that sometimes they really do deserve their reputation. I was frequently instructed to fill in and print out a template for a legal document, which the lawyer would then sign. Then the invoice would go out billing the client for an hour or more of the lawyer's time at several hundred dollars per hour when it had in reality taken less than five minutes of their time and maybe half an hour of mine.

    Having recently binge-watched The Good Wife and The Good Fight, it was great to see a myriad of different characters involved in the law - with a lot of nuance to their motivations. It's definitely a profession with plenty of fodder for great stories and complex characters.

    I think it's worth shining a light on the heroes of any profession, because we need to encourage good people (like Everdorn above) to enter these professions if they are motivated to make a positive difference in other people's lives. If we keep painting a picture of only sleazy people being lawyers and politicians, then that's what we will get.

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  4. Well said, Elle. This is the reason why the three lawyer protagonists in my next book are good guys (actually 2 guys and 1 gal). The story definitely shines the light on the lives, motives, and occasionally on the shortcomings of those 3 very human characters. But I had to include one true sleaze to avoid sounding like Pollyanna.

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  5. Lawyers are a necessary "evil." There a good ones and corrupt ones. The think I hate the most about trial science is that truth takes a back seat to the "best story."

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    1. A very sad truth. Lawyers can be quite adept at manipulating juries (beginning with choosing which of the defendant's peers are impaneled to judge the case). This is a huge step in the strategy of assuring that the "best stories" take precedence over the truth.

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  6. I haven't had much experience with attorneys, but both my sons have. I agree with Diana. There are good ones and bad one. My sons had one of each. The son with the bad one was cheated out of money. He put a bad review on Yelp, and they begged him to remove it. My son said he would if they gave him his money. They didn't. He left the review.

    I do like legal thrillers.

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  7. Like you, Linda, I've had good and bad experiences with lawyers. One was an entertainment lawyer who - unknown to me - was overbilling for work on the legal documents for investors in my film. We - my partner and I - had given the firm a retainer of $3,000 to handle all the legal work, and the associate attorney had blown through that without properly notifying us. Luckily, the managing partner, as well as that associate's immediate superior, caught him out before any more money was lost. And we got some free legal time to compensate.

    On the other hand, a young just-starting-out attorney took my case when I sued a large department store after the beauty parlor in the store burned my hair and head with a permanent solution. It was horrible, but all I wanted was for them to pay medical bills and other bills related to trying to save my hair. They refused and I got mad and found this great lawyer. I was nicely compensated. Not millions, but enough to pay all those bills and have a little extra. I didn't want millions. I really have an issue with people who go for the big bucks in cases like this. And I could have. It's a large department store with outlets across the country. I just don't believe it is right to go after deep pockets just because they are there.

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  8. Good lawyers, bad lawyers . . . it's a risk. The worst one I had was recommended by a neighbor I knew fairly well (obviously not well enough). Kudos to you for not going after the big bucks. I think the potential for huge legal fees are a temptation for a client fleecing, at least for some attorneys.

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