Show others our profession isn’t a punchline

August 19, 2016
President’s Message By Melaine Shannon Rothey

Why does our profession get a bad rap? Why does everyone have a favorite lawyer joke but not a favorite doctor joke or accountant joke? How can we, as members of the ACBA, further the portion of our mission statement that commits us to advancing the public image of the profession? 

I know what you’re thinking, and I understand: I’m too busy to worry about what the public thinks of our profession. I have an appellate court brief due next week. I have to prepare for trial. My kids are sick. My mother needs me to take her to the doctor. My car is in the shop.

We’ve all been in similar situations, and we are all busy. The problem is that if we, the members of the ACBA, do not consciously and continuously promote the positives about our profession, no one will do it for us. It is our responsibility.

No – it is our obligation. And as you can imagine, I have a few suggestions:

Be proud of our profession. We all have days when we want to quit practicing law and take a job as a cashier at a grocery store or a ticket-taker at the movie theater. Fortunately, for most of us, those days are infrequent, and we truly enjoy helping our fellow citizens wend their way through the court system or through a real estate transaction or to patent a new invention or to pursue their dream business venture. 

Volunteer your time and expertise. There are numerous opportunities to do so. Our Pro Bono Center can offer you options in more than 30 different areas as diverse as family law, bankruptcy, immigration, prisoner’s rights, education, the arts, housing, veterans and the elderly. Or, become a member of a nonprofit board and use your legal knowledge to assist the organization. Or, offer to join a committee in your community, coach a Little League team or teach a class at the neighborhood recreation center. 

Spend a couple of hours in the spring answering phones for the “KD & You and the Law” call-in program. The vast majority of the callers do not have complex legal problems; rather, they want someone to listen to their problem and point them in the right direction. They just want to know that someone else cares and will take them seriously. 

Offer to speak at a local school. Through the ACBA “Stepping Out” program, you can volunteer to speak about our profession to high school students. Alternatively, nearly any local elementary school will welcome the opportunity to have you come and speak about being a lawyer. If you have children in grade school, especially in the lower grades, they would love to have you make a presentation to their classroom or school because it is still “cool” to have Mom or Dad visit their school. Quite frankly, even many high school students are thrilled to have Mom or Dad meet their classmates and offer practical advice on legal matters that they will encounter. The bar association is also very involved in anti-bullying through the years and can provide you with “This is a Joke – Making Fun of Others is Not!” books to take with you on your visit. 

If you are not interested in children’s programs, how about our Very Important Papers program for seniors? I suggest to you that assisting one of our community’s older citizens will, undoubtedly, bring a smile to your face. They are universally kind, gracious and appreciative that an attorney took an hour or two to make sure that their affairs are in order.

Did you know that the ACBF sponsors legal clinics throughout the county? These clinics offer assistance to our neighbors who cannot afford a lawyer but have a legal issue that they cannot solve on their own. It is not uncommon that a person who visits one of the clinics simply does not know where to start or what to ask. Some issues are as simple as finding the appropriate government agency or making a few phone calls to get the answer to a question. Others involve taking a case, having the filing fees waived and litigating the matter to its conclusion. Either way, you are helping someone’s mother or father, sister or brother, grandmother or grandfather, and it feels really good to go home that night and tell your significant other about your good day. 

Bottom line: It is essential that each of us give back to our profession by promoting both the profession and ourselves every day. I guarantee you that if you do so, your satisfaction with having chosen to be a lawyer will be greatly enhanced. 

Again, if I were in charge of the world…