Every so often, one of our country’s legal “jurisdictions” (which can be regions, districts, or even entire states) does something to better the practice of law without changing the practice of law. New York just did. New York is set to become the first state to require lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono work as a condition for getting a license. That type of thing makes me feel warm and fuzzy about lawyers. That’s good, because it’s been a while.
Long ago, attorneys had an impeccable reputation for helping people and making the world a better place. Over the past 50 years or so (though I must admit I wasn’t around back then), it seems that times have changed and along with that, the perception of attorneys. Apparently, the world now thinks of attorneys as money-grubbing opportunists who will do anything to make a dollar or complicate a matter or point out minutia in a contract, latch onto that parcel of minutia, and make someone pay someone else because the word ‘it’ was misspelled ‘if’, or other such nonsense.
But the truth of the matter is that attorneys really are needed in our world, a world besieged by the problem of people failing to or unwilling to take responsibility for their actions. This is true whether it’s a trucking accident, a contract that is not performed, fraudulent billing, or even weight gain. People don’t want to admit that the reason they are how they are is because of THEM. And when people don’t want to take responsibility for their own respective lots in life, they call on lawyers. The problem is that many lawyers do see opportunity in some of these circumstances, but the fact of the matter is that lawyers can’t take cases without getting cases, so it is you, the American public, that calls on attorneys to begin the process of filing lawsuits, complaints, etc.
Sometimes I equate it to putting an ice cream sundae in front of a child. What child, given the sundae, isn’t going to eat it? What attorney, hearing of a golden opportunity to make money on someone else’s misfortune is going to restrain him or herself? In my practice, I try to keep my head above water by taking cases that “feel” good to me, but make no mistake about it, I get calls all day long where people could potentially have a good case, but it just doesn’t feel right to take it, so I pass. Money isn’t everything. Health, relationships, morality, and being able to sleep at night is. At least to me. I take cases where I can go to bed at night thinking “I’m helping someone in need” rather than “I can make a lot of money by suing a deep pocket even though they might not have done anything wrong.”
Just as an example, in my medical malpractice cases, I won’t sue resident doctors, or interns. I just won’t do it. Sometimes I have to do it initially just to make sure that they will testify, but I will never ask for a judgment against them. There are other examples, but the point is simple: lawyers have a responsibility to do good for the world. To make the world a better place by solving people’s problems, not by manufacturing them. To that end, I praise the state of New York for helping (read: forcing) lawyers to do some good for the world and making sure that they keep their eye on the ball as they apply for their license to practice law.