Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Big Cat Self-Preservation Society

Lawyers are an interesting breed. We are - to an extent - viewed analogously if not similarly to another group of human beings: members of Congress. The average man on the street does not like Congress and does not think that Congress does an effective job. Yet, that same man returns his congressional representative to Washington at a rate of re-election that is north of 90%. Pretty damn good for those we purportedly love to hate.

Similarly, lawyers have historically been viewed as something less than some kind of wonderful. You know that you belong to an unpopular profession when The Eagles can express musically the same sentiment that Shakespeare expressed dramatically centuries earlier and milk it for a hit. And I could make a case for a lot of the criticism being unfair. Or I could do what I do, which is tell myself (rightly or wrongly) that the criticism is not directed at me individually.

You choose your delusion on your own terms but before you criticize my embrace of the latter consider just how difficult it is becoming to do so with the former. New Jersey is the home to (at last count) more than 80,000 attorneys and - I can tell you from my professional experience defending individuals and entities who get sued in civil actions - a representative percentage of that number is comprised of men and women who represent plaintiffs (those doing the suing) in those actions. Also, I can tell you that in my experience attorneys bring a varying degree of expertise and skill to all that we do so some of the adversaries with whom I deal on a day in/day out basis are more skilled than others. I presume without hesitation that my adversaries would say the same thing - both about me and about my brethren in the defense bar.

New Jersey is home to a number of very, very successful law firms that specialize in the business of representing plaintiffs in personal injury matters. If you were to subscribe to the New Jersey Law Journal (and why you would as a non-lawyer when there is zero sports coverage and no comics is a mystery to me) you would see their weekly honor roll - the "Suits and Deals" column - and perhaps begin your quest for a flight of stairs down which you might hurl yourself in order to avail yourself of their services.

Lately, one of the state's more well-known plaintiffs' law firms has been engaged in a rather public Pier Six brawl with one of its former attorneys. Judging by the level of their animosity (as expressed publicly), one could forgive Juliet for her youthful naivete. The vanquished former employee has started a web site that brutally mocks his former firm. The former firm has responded by suing him in Federal court, alleging a whole boatload of violations of Federal law, including trademark infringement and cybersquatting (I would be lying full-throat if I said I have any idea what the latter is).

Who wins? Who cares. From the sidelines it is an experience akin to deciding whether to root for in Alien vs Predator. The cynic in me suspects that the former employee's M.O. is far more deeply rooted in self-promotion than altruism - regardless of his proclamations to the contrary - and that the Firm's reaction is far more deeply rooted in being really, really pissed off than it is in a concern that potential clients might mistake his web site for theirs.

My hope as an attorney is that at some point - in the not-too-distant future - the venom that is fueling this tete-a-tete both ways evaporates or simply gets channeled into something more useful. There is an endless supply of opportunities out there for lawyers (the collective) to be viewed by the world at large as unscrupulous and unsavory characters. We need not - in my opinion - create such an opportunity ourselves.

Or maybe we should just all admit it. Admit that Al Czervik was right. And a note to my fellow members of the bar: On your way to the office tomorrow morning, remember to pick up some Lysol and a sponge. It has truly hit the fan.


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