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Attorney Van O'Steen

Don't Pass Judgment on Attorneys of Today Without All the Facts

Van O'Steen

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Let's establish a point of agreement. As a group, lawyers generally can be expected to serve their own interests. This does not distinguish lawyers from any other group. The same can be said for insurance companies, government agencies, labor unions, doctors, car dealers, professional athletes and nearly everyone else.

Lawyers are, however, more disliked than most occupational groups. A possible explanation lies in the fact that lawyers do unpopular things. They represent people accused of crimes. They represent people and businesses accused of fraud. They represent allegedly corrupt politicians. They represent people who discharge their debts through bankruptcy, and they represent creditors often seen as forcing people into bankruptcy. These are not popular activities.

Much of the public's disdain for lawyers, however, is misplaced. The lawyer's role has evolved with our society. Today's lawyers work within a system they did not create—a system resistant to change.

Admittedly, our legal system is not without flaws. The blame for this, however, generally does not rest with lawyers. The problems are systemic.

Our legal system is adversarial. It is grounded on the assumption that truth is best determined through conflict. Two sides to a controversy square off, each advancing its strengths or exposing the other's weaknesses, and ideally, truth and justice emerge.

Lawyers merely implement this system. If a lawyer fails in his responsibility to represent zealously his clients' interests, an imbalance results. The system fails.

Defects or failures in our legal system can be remedied by insuring meaningful access to the system for everyone. In addition to competent representation, the system might benefit from softening our adversarial approach to justice.

An increased emphasis should be placed on developing the truth guided by a standard of fairness—not complicated legal principles and procedures that are incomprehensible to nearly everyone.

Not all disputes could be resolved in a non-adversarial setting. Current trends, however, toward mediation suggest that the lawyer as adversary might be replaced, in many cases, by the lawyer as counselor.

If you are tempted to blame lawyers for any aspect of our current legal system with which you find fault, reconsider. Look beneath the surface.

Lawyers are an essential product of our justice system.

Today's lawyers deserve neither the credit nor the blame for that system.