Denver Bar Association
July 2004
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Letters to the Editor: Lawyers Need to Lighten Up

In the May 2004 edition of The Docket I found two writings that are extremely defensive of the legal profession: one was a Letter to the Editor decrying lawyer jokes as "insults" and a feature article decrying a recent lawyer-related advertisement. Granted, I am new to practicing law in Denver, but I must ask: aren’t we getting a bit over-protective of our profession? I think that we need to lighten up, and that we deserve to take a little heat for our self-important approaches.

I have spent the past four years explaining to European colleagues and to European law students some of the "unusual" characteristics of the U.S. legal profession. This includes contingency fees, punitive damages, and other concepts like the multi-million dollar verdicts that regularly hit the headlines, even if they are reversed at a later stage. We are one of the only Western countries in the world that reaps profits from client victories in the form of contingency fees. Elsewhere it is prohibited as a serious ethical violation. Furthermore, most lawyers around the world make about the same amount of money as any other profession. This clearly isn’t the case in the United States or even Denver. I am not saying that we should do away with our approach and embrace a different system; however, at home, things have gotten a bit out of hand, particularly with regards to our self-importance. We rank each other first by the school that we attended, then by the firm that we work for, then by our success in court or financial position. Although the ranking systems may vary, the U.S. legal profession is an incurably elitist society, and frankly, many lawyers are seen as unpleasant, pompous, and downright condescending, both to our clients and to each other.

Let us relax a little. There is nothing wrong with an occasional joke, complaint, or ad. I say bring it on, let our clients criticize us, and let us take it like professionals. Not everyone deserves to be ridiculed and joked, but a good number of us do. Improving our image will only happen by changing the way we interact with others, not by trying to stop others from expressing their
feelings about us and our profession.

—Patrick S. Ryan

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