Proclaiming the Dignity of Work
Vol.2, No.2, 1996
National Work Commission, Secular Franciscan Order, U.S.A
Ed & Mary Zablocki, SFO, Chairs, 360 Beard Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14214 (716) 838-4178
Many lawyers trace their disillusionment to the practice of law itself. Pressure to make money and win big cases has transformed the legal culture, many lawyers say, turning the profession into more of a sink-or-swim business. For some the art of wooing clients has become more valued than crafting effective legal arguments. A study in 1994 concluded that California attorneys were “profoundly pessimistic” about the law, with only half indicating that they would choose again to be a lawyer. Seven in 10 lawyers responding to a 1992 California Lawyer magazine poll said they would change careers if the opportunity arose.
Who Ya Gonna Call? 1-800-Sue Me (Newsweek, March 20, 1995) How low can lawyers go in the eyes of their countrymen? Was the bottom hit by last year’s Budweiser commercial: instead of roping cattle, cowboys lassoed obnoxious, brief-case toting lawyers? A year ago, a National Law journal poll found that only 5 percent of Americans wanted their kids to grow up to be lawyers. But through all these trials and embarrassments, the bar clung to a central premise of its profession: that the first loyalty of lawyers is not to their client, or to their own pocketbooks, but rather to the law itself. This lofty ideal was not always observed in practice, of course. But it was enshrined by law schools and rules of ethics, and to some extent enforced by a lawyerly elite who ran city bar associations. In the last two decades, this goal--or pretense--has been all but abandoned. The rules of ethics have been changed. Indeed, they are not even taught as “professional ethics,” but increasingly as the “law of lawyering.” The basic rule now is to represent your client as zealously as possible. Lawyers rarely feel a conflict between representing their clients and acting as an “officer of the court.” The client almost always comes first, short of handing his lawyer the murder weapon. This change did not ooze up from the traditionally sleazy criminal bar, but rather filtered down from Yale Law School, where the theory of “legal realism” recognized that the law is not really about abstract notions of justice, but rather about power.
The second shift came from the marketplace. Lawyers have always been regarded as greedy, but they were at least supposed to be civic-minded and engage in pro bono work. They were not allowed to advertise of “chase ambulances.” All those prohibitions now seem quaint. In even the most staid old Wall Street firms, “rainmakers” - client-getters - are clearly honored over do- gooders.
The pressure for efficiency leaves little time for doctors to talk to patients. As Laurence Ronan, a Boston internist, puts it, “I have 15 minutes to see you. What do I focus on, especially at the end of the exam, when the patient suddenly tells me that her husband beats her or someone tells me he’s impotent? None of that fits into 15 minutes.” By making the business of medicine more business and less medicine, managed care can choke the growth of healthy doctor-patient relationships. The proliferation of managed-care providers has brought with it the competition to provide treatment at the lowest price. But it has also brought to medicine the aroma of investment banking. Patients, doctors, employers and insurers can each take steps to avert the danger of a decline in quality and trust. Patients should insist on talking to their doctors about their health. If your doctor won’t make time to talk to you, fire him and get one who will. The practice of medicine is a sacred ministry, not an industry. We must be careful that the patients are not the ones who get burned by legions of bureaucrats driven more by their desire to cut costs than by their duty to put the patient first.