Vol. 33, No. 4
CBA President's Message to Members
by Robert J. Truhlar
As attorneys, we should all be irritated when we are treated as if we walk around with targets on our backs. Attorney jokes are bad enough. Direct attacks on the general character of attorneys are worse. I don’t like attorney jokes. Why would I? They usually characterize us with very undesirable, stereotypical traits. But, we don’t want to appear wimpy or humorless, so we grin and bear it, sometimes even when a good friend tells us a lawyer joke that is more obnoxious than humorous. Whatever happened to the jokes that started with: "Did you hear the one about the frog who went into a bar?"
|Robert J. Truhlar|
The Better Business Bureau
In late February, the Better Business Bureau ("BBB") ran a television advertisement depicting attorneys as dishonest thieves. The ad, which has been shown on metropolitan Denver’s Channel 9, KUSA-TV, states: "You inherited a fortune. You hired a lawyer. Now it’s his fortune. Next time, check with us first."
The clear implication is that lawyers are unethical and will steal your money. The BBB invites inquiries about lawyers. However, on contacting the BBB, a Colorado Bar Association representative was told that the BBB does not connect with or check with the Colorado Supreme Court Attorney Regulation Counsel to see whether a BBB lawyer about whom an inquiry is made has been disciplined. They, therefore, must be keeping their own records and, of course, it would be very interesting to hear what statements they publish about attorneys if they are contacted. When the CBA contacted the BBB, it was told that the ad was supposed to be funny. I don’t see any humor in it, and certainly no merit.
The CBA contacted the thirty law firms that are members of the BBB and alerted them to the derogatory ad about attorneys. As a result of the CBA’s communications with the BBB, it has been suggested that the issue be presented before the "Ethics in Advertising Council." The Council is made up of five consumers, five businesses that advertise, and five advertising agencies. Joe Dischinger, President of the Denver Bar Association, and I plan to make a presentation on behalf of attorneys about this ad. In the meantime, the BBB agreed to stop running the ad for two weeks, and the ad has been removed from the BBB website at the time of this writing.
Attorneys are the Heroes
This attorney bashing is particularly objectionable when we consider that attorneys are on the front lines in our society, helping people who are less fortunate. A good example of this is a recent clinic sponsored by the Arapahoe County Bar Association (my local bar), at which seven attorney volunteers assisted homeless and low-income people with legal issues for a half a day. The clinic was conducted at the St. Francis Center for the Homeless, at 2323 Curtis St. in downtown Denver. The Center serves a population of homeless, transient, and low-income clients. This was the first time that St. Francis Center ever had a legal clinic.
The attorneys who volunteered at the clinic were Wadine Gehrke (an attorney who is a professor at the University of Denver College of Law ("DU" Law) and was in charge of the clinic), Peggy Walker (also from DU Law), Gretchen Fuss, Mark Payne, Rob Hinds, Tim Moehler, and Doris Truhlar (my law partner and wife). There also were two students from DU Law, Suzanne Rauch and Elizabeth DeGerse—their pro bono work is starting early, and I want to be the first to congratulate them. DU Law was a great resource for the clinic. Thanks! The volunteers dealt with a variety of topics, including wills and medical declarations, divorce, benefits, and misdemeanor and traffic tickets.
This clinic is just one example of the many things that attorneys do every day to help people who need legal assistance and cannot afford it. Let me know of the outstanding programs in which lawyers in your area are involved so we can publicize them. We should not be treated like dartboards, because we are the very people who provide a helping hand to those who need it most.
Legislation Mischaracterizes Lawyers
There has been a rash of legislation in the 2004 session of the General Assembly that, at its heart, is purely and simply an attempt to engage in attorney bashing and restrict lawyers. Bills have proposed legislation that would: (1) require lawyers to provide mandatory monthly reports of hours to their clients on contingent fee cases; and (2) require that clients receive a choice at the end the case of either an hourly fee or contingent fee, whichever is less. These bills would have created a new private right of action for clients against their attorneys. They also would have set a trend of having the General Assembly, rather than our Supreme Court, regulate attorneys.
Some of these bills have been introduced year after year, even when they have been repeatedly voted down, because they lack a reasonable basis and are not needed. The problem is that, any time this type of legislation is proposed or introduced, it contributes to the public perception that attorneys are a problem, an unregulated profession that takes advantage of the public.
Misleading rhetoric that appeared in the legislative declaration of bills both last year and this year reads:
Legal representation and litigation may be further complicated by the abuse of contingent fee agreements by some attorneys who are more concerned with immediate compensation than with giving their clients the attention and service the clients deserve.
. . .
Legal consumers are often not informed about the basic elements of a contingent fee agreement, such as the costs and fee structures, the likelihood of success on their claims, the amount of time and effort an attorney will be required to invest in the case, or other important details of a case and the representation that will be involved.
The people who write this stuff have no clue about attorney rules of conduct. My clients continue to thank me for all my efforts, as I suspect yours do too. Legislators continue to blame society’s problems on the alleged acts of attorneys running wild.
Besides all that, these statements in the legislative declarations are flat out wrong. As attorneys, we are more regulated than any other profession. Our regulation is by the Colorado Supreme Court, which is the correct body to regulate attorneys. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that, in these attempts to legislate regulation of our profession, none of the "horror stories" that get trotted out involves fact situations that took place in our state. Colorado legislation ought to address Colorado problems. Additionally, in the extensive stories that have appeared in the Colorado media regarding the crowding of court dockets, there has never been one single example of an attorney’s actions causing problems in the courtroom.
It is time that we stood up and protested these attempts to paint us all as nasty, nefarious, no-good sharks who do not benefit society. Just the opposite is true. We are the people who are on the front lines representing those who need the assistance of our courts.
Let your state legislators know how disappointing it is to see this kind of legislation suggested, proposed, and introduced. Let the people in your community (your neighborhood, your church, your temple, your children’s schools, your civic association, your non-profit volunteer group) know that you, as an attorney, are the arrow in the quiver of justice, not a target.
P.S. In early May, as your CBA President, I will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with some members of Colorado’s congressional delegation. Please contact me in April if you have opinions about legislation that is important to our legal profession.
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