Public Perceptions of Lawyers

Last month, there was some discussion on this blog relating to Mike's post, Are Lawyers UNIQUELY Amoral?, my follow-up post, Why do People Need Lawyers?, and others. A key point in the discussion was how to get the general public to appreciate the importance of lawyers to society. One of my former students, Tam Ho, who is now a judicial clerk, offers the following insights:

"It seems to me there are two distinct issues - (1) how lawyers are beneficial, and (2) that lawyers are beneficial. I hope I'm wrong here, but I think it may be the case that it will be impossible to explain the first question, because the answer involves some fairly rigorous thinking about philosophy (rule utilitarianism, as Mike's post points out, epistemology, ethics, etc.). I think it may be somewhat like trying to explain to a lay person how tensor calculus is beneficial to society -- can't do it.

"But I don't think that the lawyer bashing comes exclusively as a result of the public's lack of understanding for what lawyers do. After all, the public doesn't have any problems at all accepting the fact that tensor calculus is beneficial to society, even though they don't even know what a tensor is. They understand that without it, we wouldn't have cars, planes, and electronic voting machines, even though they don't understand the way calculus is used in those products.

"So -- and I think this is perfectly consistent with the question posed -- perhaps it would be better to focus on how to convince the public that lawyers are beneficial, and forget about the other, more ambitious question. Maybe they can understand that without lawyers, we can't have safe cars, cheap airfare, and a right to vote, even though they may not understand how that is."

I have a few reactions to these intriguing thoughts, but I'll save them for another day. I wanted to post Tam's arguments here to give other readers and bloggers a chance to respond, enhance, etc.