Aretha Franklin sings in her song, “Respect”, “all I’m askin’ for is a little respect, R-E-S-P-E-C-T”. I think all of us are looking for some respect these days, because respect seems to be missing in the manner in which people treat each other. Surveys indicate that legal profession, which in years past was a highly respected profession, has been reduced to one of the least respected professions. Lawyers are not alone, and elected politicians and teachers are examples of other professions which are no longer respected. On the personal side, respect for one’s elders and even parents have diminished over the years.
As my perspective derives from being a lawyer, and because the rest of the universe daily weighs in about a lack of respect involving politicians and the political process, I will limit myself to my experiences in the practice of law, plus what I have read of late about respect, or the lack thereof, in and about the legal system.
My mantra has always been, in my personal and professional life, that “you don’t have to like me, but I expect you to respect me”. A legal columnist recently wrote an article opining that senior lawyers no longer receive the respect that their predecessors received for their experiences as being part of the legal system and toiling in the field of law for years. These days senior lawyers who can no longer be relied upon to produce new clients or create the revenues expected of them are often asked to leave their firms. I frequently see notices in the legal newspapers that a lawyer is joining a different firm, or starting their own practice after spending 20, 30 or more years at a particular firm. These lawyers are frequently in their late 60’s or 70’s. In the “old’ days, that was unheard of. As lawyers aged in the larger firms they were permitted to retain their offices, but they were able to reduce their schedule if they wished to do so.
Aside from being able to keep one’s job as one ages, I notice there is no longer a connection between how long one has practiced law, and the automatic respect that experience used to generate. These days when I mention to a judge, arbitrator, or other decision-maker, how long I have been practicing law, that information is often met with disinterest, and sometimes I get the impression that they don’t really care, as they are only interested in how they want to do things. The reason I mention it at all is usually because I feel that the actions of these individuals is sometimes not aligned with historical practice. Even if the respect for my many years of experience is acknowledged, it doesn’t usually influence the result.
The other day, a well-respected and experienced lawyer, who has chaired both his local and the state bar associations, was involved in an altercation with a guard in a government building housing criminal courts. The details of the altercation was sparse, and apparently occurred because there was a disagreement over which door the lawyer could exit from, but he suffered a broken shoulder. Things have certainly reached a low point when a security guard and an elderly lawyer duke it out in the halls of justice.
Lawyers’ relationships have also changed with their clients. Gone are the days when a lawyer was a family retainer, often representing two or three generations of a family. Today clients and potential clients read the news in various formats, have access to a wide variety of case law, judicial decisions, and cases they think are similar to theirs, on the Internet, and view television series about the law and the justice system. As a result, some clients feel as if they know the law as well as, if not better than, their lawyers; however, clients often do not know the nuances of the law, the reality of how law is actually practiced in a given geographical area, and other realities of how the legal system may work. This disconnect between reading about the law versus actually practicing the law can lead clients to have unrealistic, and often fantastical, expectations about what can be accomplished for them by their lawyers. This is also true of potential clients who don’t want to hear about the reality of pursuing one’s case and the expense involved in what they seek. They often state that they will continue to look for a lawyer who “knows the law”, meaning a lawyer who agrees with them, even if they are misinformed.
People need to be respected for their life’s experiences and their history. Respect shouldn’t be attached to how much money one has, how much money one earns, and/or what occupational position or celebrity they have achieved, because quite often the factors of luck, family background, or knowing the right people influence this type of success. A lack of respect for one’s peers, family members, or anyone else, will greatly diminish our society and cause the type of problems in our society which currently exist, and seem to be worsening.