I am both astonished and extremely disappointed that President Tod Aronovitz's Dignity in Law campaign has not been met with overwhelming excitement by every single member of The Florida Bar.
I say this neither as a friend nor acquaintance of Mr. Aronovitz. I don't know him personally; I have never met him. I speak as a proud Florida Bar member who is equally emphatic about issues of ethics, professionalism, and dignity in law. I speak also as founder and president of the American Lawyers Public Image Association, a national organization that promotes a positive public image of lawyers, and one that has gained substantial national television and media coverage.
In the July 1 issue of the News, Mr. Aronovitz's efforts were both applauded and criticized by some of my colleagues in various letters to the editor. My questions to those who have nothing better to do than attempt to undermine this extraordinary campaign are: What have you done to improve the image of lawyers? What have you done to make us all proud to be members of the legal profession? How has your professionalism been felt in the legal community? If you criticize simply for the sake of criticism, you should be ashamed of yourselves.
Rather than embrace and support Dignity in Law, you find fault with this effort that attempts to clean up your public image. Honestly, I just don't get it. If you object to contributing $45 to the campaign, I could understand that. You are entitled to that opinion. But to oppose the idea of a project that promotes dignity, professionalism, and a positive image of lawyers, to me, is unconscionable.
My letter would not be complete if I neglected to address one of the July 1 letters that recalls that even Shakespeare had a "distaste for lawyers." The fact is, Shakespeare's famous proposal from Henry VI, "First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" was never meant to be a rallying cry for lawyer bashers. It is actually a statement praising lawyers -- those who possess independent thinking and who might stand in the way of a contemplated revolution. The meaning behind the statement is that the surest way to overthrow the government and secure the path to chaos and tyranny is to kill all the lawyers. There's no reason why any of us should be misinterpreting this.
Finally, someone is giving us a compliment and we can't even get it right.
At the top of the latest Bar News, you say "Support Dignity in Law on the Annual Bar Fee Statement."
I must respectfully refuse to do so and personally feel, as many of the writers to the News dated July 1 do, that this is futile.
I particularly agree with the letter that said given the rate of growth of the Bar, we'll soon outnumber everybody else, then there will be no reason to he concerned about our image.
I have been practicing law in Florida since 1972 so I have observed so many changes that affect the public perception of lawyers. Like the lawyer-hucksters' advertising.
I have seen how they have been feeding at the trough of the tobacco industry, the health care industry, asbestos and next, probably the fast-food industry, particularly french-fried potatoes.
John C. Locke
President Tod Aronovitz is correct that there is a misunderstanding about the job that lawyers do. That misunderstanding has been fostered by a not very well organized but effective campaign initiated by the insurance companies and followed thereafter by physicians, HMOs, and others who want lawyers out of their way. United States lawyers are revered. We are universally respected for our advocacy for our clients. Lawyers who travel outside of the United States are usually asked how an average person is able to take on a major corporation, a physician, or another entrenched power and win. People are enamored by our independent judiciary and the courage of our judges who make decisions without respect to the political or financial power of the parties.
Every time we are told anything by The Florida Bar about our image it is usually based on anecdotal nonsense that comes from some businessman who does not like what a particular lawyer did. So we flounder around, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to impress all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons. The Bar needs to spend some time talking to brick masons, boiler-makers, waitresses, cab drivers, teachers, secretaries -- people who work for wages. The Bar would then understand that we do not have an image problem, we have an influence problem.
Robert G. Kerrigan
The Bar may be an attorney's or a law firm's way of communicating effectively with the vast public. The Bar demands the highest esteem from its members. In charge of discipline, in charge of registration, in charge of conduct, the Bar maintains the public trust of attorneys. It is not only that lawyers help, and are not all criminals. We are professionally, privately, graciously, overwhelmingly, and honestly public servants.
One finds attorneys on community boards, public service organizations, charitable and youth organizations, etc. Although there is about one attorney for approximately 800 adults, comparatively one will find in many organizations approximately one attorney for every eight to 16 people. Attorneys' involvement in these organizations is invaluable.
I would not mind reporting my charitable involvement in these organizations if simply the Bar would do something with the information. As it is, I believe, it just simply appears as a line item on some multi-page report as if it was something one would actively seek out on the second page, 15th line of some report issued only to attorneys or certain governmental organizations, that might defensively reference "yes, attorneys do actually help and here are the hours to prove it." I do not think I or other attorneys are looking for special recognition, but this information can, and perhaps should, be used to actively improve the image of attorneys.
Attorneys are so actively involved in their communities that somehow that involvement deserves more recognition.
I would appreciate a more accurate, positive image of the profession than Hollywood, or the people with less-than-perfect divorce settlements, child custody settlements, and the few unhappy individuals of civil matters would relay. Our profession is replete with individuals who have assisted in so many ways in the development of this nation.
I take great pride in being part of this profession. Yet, individually, my efforts to assist the esteem of the profession would be negligible. Yet an extremely small contribution by everyone in the profession could provide a significant response to the negative image of the profession portrayed by Hollywood.
So I send The Florida Bar the same thing I sent to the ABA: $100 as my contribution toward the improvement of the image of the profession, or perhaps more accurately, simply the public becoming somewhat more aware of the role attorneys have historically played and continue to play in our everyday lives.
Paul C. Schmidt
The July 1 letter attacking contingency fees is not only misguided, but is based on unsound arguments and facts. First, the "crisis" in medical malpractice litigation is not the explosion of litigation, but rather the explosion of medical malpractice itself. The causes may be many, but health maintenance organizations (an Orwellian term if ever there was one) bear the brunt of the responsibility. Having "business people" make medical decisions, on what is or is not necessary medical care and mandating how quickly a patient must leave the hospital, is a recipe for medical disasters.
The "crisis" in malpractice insurance is a creation of the insurance industry based upon rate increases which are being driven not by lawsuits, but by prior underwriting decisions during the good economic times, when premium dollars could be invested at high returns, and by current diminished returns on investment in a declining stock market. If the average malpractice verdict has doubled in the last several years, is this not reflective of a general increased cost of living (check recent housing prices as an indicator) and possibly an increase in the severity of damages suffered? Statistics do not support "doctor flight" from Florida, rather the number of doctors per capita has actually increased over the past 10 years:
As to contingency fees in general, perhaps the writer has the luxury of representing corporate clients and banks which can afford to pay, up front, rates ranging up to $500 an hour, if not more. Given the average Florida citizen's annual income, how many hours worth of lawyer time can he or she buy when pursuing a claim against a well-financed corporate defendant before the injured plaintiff has to fold his or her tent and go home without a recovery, or with whatever meager damages the litigant is forced to accept due to the inability to prosecute the claim? Would we be able to make our society a safer place by eliminating exposures to such hazards as cigarettes, asbestos, toxic dumps, faulty products, etc., if the common citizen did not have access to an attorney willing to forego a guaranteed up-front fee, in exchange for a percentage-based contingency fee?
Of course, the Johns-Manvilles, the Enrons, the Worldcoms, the Phillip Morrises, the Bridgestones, and others similarly situated, would love to see your view of the world carried out. But the citizens of this state and country are best served by our current system, however flawed it might be.
Robert D. Brown
This is a comment regarding the July 1 letter harshly criticizing "[t]he widespread use of contingent percentage fees which invest lawyers with a direct and crucial personal financial stake in civil damage claims" that are tried before judges composed of "lay citizens deliberately selected without any regard whatever for any expertise or academic or other competence."
I am a retired board certified Florida civil trial lawyer whose practice during the latter years was devoted substantially to the prosecution of legal malpractice claims. Most of my clients in these cases were people of very modest means who could not possibly afford the legal fees and costs for complex litigation usually defended by highly skilled and well-paid defense lawyers. Many years ago a highly respected Florida Supreme Court justice remarked, "The contingent fee is the poor man's key to the courthouse." The writer neglected to tell us how my clients could have achieved redress but for the contingent fee.
My concept of professionalism was that competent representation of a client must always be a more important motivation for a lawyer than possible financial reward, but even so I don't see how having a personal financial stake in a damage claim can do anything but enhance that motivation.
The first time I filed a legal malpractice case I decided that it was too complicated for a lay jury. I learned the hard way that trial judges, recalling their own mistakes as lawyer, tend to protect lawyer defendants, unconsciously I will assume. I then discovered that if I did my job as a trial lawyer with an accurate, detailed opening statement, an orderly presentation of evidence, and a thorough closing argument, juries randomly composed of a broad spectrum of occupations and educational levels would understand the case and try very hard to do the right thing.
It is easy to understand why the insurance industry mindlessly detests the contingent fee, but it seems to me that lawyers should be able to comprehend what an important part of the judicial system it is.
Charles J. Cheves
Please permit me to take this opportunity to express my deep appreciation for the events recently presented by The Florida Bar's Young Lawyers Division and the University of Miami School of Law to honor and celebrate 50 years of practice by a group of us who were graduated and admitted in 1952.
I and my family were most honored to be feted with such celebration, and the reverberations continue to this day as we hear comments about the dinner and luncheon and the special publication of the Bar News.
To give you an idea of how much I enjoyed the practice of law, as our group, in cap and gown, proceeded to the front of the 2002 graduates of the University of Miami, I meant every word when I stopped and said to one graduate, "I'd do it all over again. It was that great! If I could trade places with you, today, I would do it!" That says it all; how very much I enjoyed my chosen profession.
Robert J. (Bob) Lewison
Judicial Free Speech
According to the St. Petersburg Times (7/11/02), the chair of the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee "has sent out a memo that said the Minnesota decision [striking down restrictions on speech by candidates in judicial campaigns] has no legal effect in Florida."
One hopes that was a misquote. Even the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee must recognize that the writ of the U.S. Supreme Court reaches all the way to the Gulf The Florida Supreme Court learned that lesson in November of 2000.
Now that the Court has spoken on the issue, it is time to take the gag out of the mouths of judicial candidates, and let the public learn what they know, and what they believe -- just as we do in any other election. That is now the law, folks.
The July 1, News carried a letter criticizing the new format of Standard Jury Instructions in Criminal Cases. Gerry Rose of CLE Publications responded for the Bar correcting the writer's apparent apprehension that Lexis Publishing Company was the publisher. Instead, the Bar is the publisher.
Still, in my opinion, the critique of the new book's format is right on point. Apparently, The Florida Bar, on its own, opted for the new hardbound format, which seems to be the dominant format used by Lexis.
I thought The Florida Bar's CLE publications were designed to assist lawyers, and that the Bar would be interested in knowing what the members think about the utility of the format of each publication. The Florida Bar's glib response suggests otherwise, at least in this case.
Also, that there is now a companion computer CD ROM does not equal the utility of the older format. Criminal practitioners and judges work under time constraints, and the old format often answered the needs dictated by those constraints. Lawyers and judges do not spend all of their time in front of a computer screen. Reading a CD ROM's content is not the same as reading a book, especially the book in question. You cannot carry the computer everywhere you go: At least, not yet. Not everyone's office is as computerized as the Bar's response seems to assume. The point is that the book, not the CD ROM, has been the best ready reference for the court and lawyers when they meet.
I also find the loose-leaf format of many of the older publications to be much more useful and accessible than the hardbound format. Yes, the hardbound books look more appealing, but utility is far more important. Providing a CD ROM along with the manual is useful, but it is a supplement to, and not a replacement for, the manual itself.
I applaud The Florida Bar for making the practice manuals available. I hope that among its considerations in providing them is that they be as inexpensive as is feasible, that they be of sound professional content, and that they be designed to meet the needs of the practitioners and judges who use them most. I believe the aesthetic considerations should be of lesser importance.
John T. Chandler
I read with interest the letter concerning the recent changes to the CLE update of the criminal rules book. Then I received my copy of the update of Practice Under Florida Probate Code. Much to my consternation, the Bar decided to do the same thing to that publication. While I object to the blatant commercial tie-in to Lexis delivered in the form of a CD accompanying the book, my biggest objection is the book itself For years I have used the loose -leaf binder format of this publication. It is easy to use, easy to remove pages to copy for my annotations and insertion in files, and even more important, easy to update, by simply inserting pages.
Now the CLE committee has decided, without asking me or anyone I know, to change to a hardbound book format requiring the infamous pocket parts to update. Then every year or so, they will require me to buy a new book. While this has been a successful marketing scheme by law book publishers for years, I had hoped our own Bar publications group would avoid forcing such on its own members. To add insult to injury, they even included a notice with the brand new book that it was already out of date due to changes in the probate rules effective May 2, 2002, so we will soon receive our first pocket part.
I do not intend to use this as provided. We will take the book apart, and where appropriate, insert the pages into our loose-leaf binder. Good try, CLE Committee. Better thought next time.
Bruce E. Hoffman