• Dealing with the Lawyer Stereotype

    The legal profession has an image problem. One of the reasons why lawyer jokes are funny is because there is a kernel of truth to them. When you hear about lawyers on the news, it’s related to a newsworthy case or lawyers who did something severely unethical or illegal. These are the lawyers who are painting the picture of the profession.

    And here’s what it looks like. I posted a simple question on Facebook and Reddit: “When you hear the word “lawyer” what phrases, stereotypes, gut reactions, or ideas come to mind?” Here are some of the responses I got:

    Jerk Center by Sarah_Ackerman
    Jerk Center by Sarah_Ackerman from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

    Rip off
    Money grubbers
    Ambulance chaser
    I won’t be in a hurry to be friends with them, but I’d rather them be friends than enemies.
    They’ll do whatever it takes to lie for their client, even if it means letting a murderer go free, as long as their paid.
    Always synonymous with human filth

    A lot of these responses came from my Facebook friends – people who like me and know what I do for a living.

    Sometimes I forget that there’s a nasty stereotype associated with the legal profession. I’m reminded of it when I do speaking engagements where I get feedback like this:

    • “I have heard several students say that it was the most helpful lecture they have attended. I also heard that they really enjoyed having a lawyer that added life to the room!”
    • “I feared it was going to be boring, but I figured it’d be like eating broccoli: Not fun, but good for you. I was delighted by Ruth’s presentation. She was engaging and funny – like eating broccoli covered in delicious queso.”
    Shark Car Ornament by peggydavis66 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)
    Shark Car Ornament by peggydavis66 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

    I know I’m not a typical lawyer in terms of personality and hobbies, but I forget that it is strikingly different than what a lot of people think of when they think of a lawyer. Even though I don’t fit the stereotype, I don’t see myself as that different from my counterparts in regards to work ethic, an enjoyment of the law, and a desire to help people – the things that really matter to potential clients.

    So what’s the solution to the awful lawyer stereotype? I don’t know. The only thing I can think of is since we’re a self-regulating profession, we should have an expectation that we all follow Wheaton’s Law (“Don’t be a dick”). We shouldn’t tolerate arrogance, narcissism, or insensitivity in our dealings with our clients or each other. I wish more law schools would reject applicants and law firms would turn down candidates or fire people for being jerks. I don’t know what else we can do to show that the lawyers who make it on the news are the exception and not the rule for what it means to be a lawyer.

    I was pleased to see that a few responses to my question that showed not everyone hates lawyers. One said a lawyer is a “[t]rusted advisor, hopefully.” Another said we’re the “[d]efenders of the weak.” At least some people know we’re not all bad.

    See also: Lawyers’ Bad Reputations Start with Arrogant Law Students.

  • I recently participated in a phone survey about pedestrian safety in Phoenix. As someone who regularly walks and jogs in my neighborhood, pedestrian safety is an everyday concern. According to the AZ DOT Crash Facts, there were 1,575 car-pedestrian accidents in Arizona in 2012 that resulted in 1,354 injuries and 131 deaths. I prefer not to be the next statistic.

    In general, I feel like Phoenix is a fairly safe place to be a pedestrian, however, the survey questions had little to do with factors that contribute to risks to pedestrians. They asked whether the sidewalks were wide enough (yes), whether there’s adequate lighting (most of the time), if the walk signals at intersections are long enough (yes), and whether emergency vehicles respond to accidents swiftly enough (this has nothing to do with things that cause pedestrian accidents).

    They survey person didn’t ask about the two main factors that I think contribute to car-pedestrian accidents: stupid pedestrians and stupid drivers.

    jaywalking by ^ Missi ^ from Flickr (Creative Commons License)
    jaywalking by ^ Missi ^ from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

    Stupid Pedestrians
    One of the biggest risks to pedestrian safety I see every day is jaywalking. I’m not talking about people walking their dogs in the neighborhood and crossing in the middle of the block. I’m talking about people crossing 6-lane streets where the speed limit is 40 mph during peak driving times. I live near such a street and I see this all the time, even with a crosswalk located a few hundred feet away and an underpass available.

    The worst is when I see a parent jaywalking with their kids. I’ve seen jaywalking parents in the suicide lane pushing a baby stroller with one hand and their other hand is holding the hand of their toddler. It’s one thing to be cavalier about your own safety, but don’t put your kids at risk. It’s because of this that my first question when I hear about a car-pedestrian accident is whether the person was jaywalking.

    And another thing, if you walk when it’s dark out, especially in neighborhoods that don’t have that many street lights, please wear something that makes you more visible. When I go jogging before sunrise, I wear a reflective belt and sometimes a headlamp. You can’t expect people not to hit you if you can’t be seen.

    Stop Hammertime by Rich Anderson from Flickr (Creative Commons License)
    Stop Hammertime by Rich Anderson from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

    Stupid Drivers
    The number one threat to my safety as a pedestrian is drivers making right-hand turns at intersections – especially ones that have a traffic signal. A lot of them don’t stop behind the crosswalk and they don’t look for pedestrians trying to cross the street. I’ve been almost hit twice in one trip across an intersection. I had the walk signal and cars at both corners weren’t paying attention to the fact that I was there. I know I’m small but I’m not invisible.

    I also worry about walking my dog Rosie in crosswalks. I made the mistake of not staying right by her side once and a car starting turning after I was out of his way but she wasn’t. That scared the crap out of me.

    The other set of stupid drivers are the ones who don’t know how to stop at stop signs. A lot of neighborhoods don’t have the white line on the ground next to the stop sign and so when drivers stop at the stop sign, the front of their car is about 4 feet in front of the stop sign, which puts them right in the middle of where pedestrians walk when they cross the street. This is less of an issue when I’m walking but it’s big issue when I’m running. I like it when drivers don’t plow into me during morning exercise. It’s because of these people that I got my reflective belt.

    I agree that pedestrian safety is an issue in Phoenix that could be easily improved, but it’s less of a city issue and more of a stupid people problem. One of the things I frequently say when I cross the street is, “Thank you for not hitting me.” It sounds funny, but given the number of close calls I’ve had, it’s true.

  • Minimalism Project Update – One Year Later

    I went to SXSW last year and one of the best presentations I went to was on business and minimalism. I wanted to minimize my life and this gave me the motivation I needed. By the end of the hour, I’d broken down the major areas of my house where I keep my into a list of areas I could tackle in a week’s time with the goal of having the entire house cleaned out over the course of about six months. (I <3 The Minimalists.) It felt really good to fill my entire trunk and backseat with unwanted stuff and drop it off at Goodwill.

    Part of the "Donate" Pile from Last Year's Clean Out
    Part of the “Donate” Pile from Last Year’s Clean Out

    My minimalism project was a huge success. I got rid of so much stuff that was cluttering up my life. I felt much more clear-headed as I decreased the amount of stuff around me. I also made it a point not to bring more stuff into the house. The hardest part of that is managing the amount of paper that comes into my life – business cards, flyers, receipts, etc. I try to get things put away or thrown away as fast as possible. I still get piles of paper around that I need to be better about filing or getting rid of faster.

    Embracing minimalism helped me let go of the idea that stuff has meaning. Memories have meaning. Stuff is stuff. An item may be a visual reminder of a memory or an idea, but it doesn’t replace it. I still have the memory or the idea without the thing it’s attached to. I realized I fully learned this lesson last year when I lost my bear necklace while I was traveling. I’d worn this necklace almost every day for over 16 years. I had it when I left the hotel in Washington DC, but three airports, two airplanes, and two shuttle vans later, it was gone. I filed missing item reports with all the airports and the airline but they didn’t find it. About five years ago, I misplaced this necklace for a few hours and I was devastated until I found it. It was gone forever and I was ok with it. It was just a thing. I’m not worse off because I don’t have it; I wasn’t even sad, and I didn’t replace it with another necklace.

    Various Club Cards I Don't Need
    Various Club Cards I Don’t Need

    I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made in minimizing my life but there’s still work to be done. I think it’s time to take the minimalism project to the next level. I’ve been feeling like my world is still too cluttered and I’m noticing areas of the house that may have been overlooked in last year’s clean-out – like the little desk in my bedroom where I found my address book from undergrad and a stack of loyalty cards where most of the businesses have since changed their rewards program.

    I think my new guiding principle will be, “If I was doing a clean out to get ready to move, would this item make the cut?” If the answer is “No,” it’s an item that needs to be thrown away or given away. I won’t do a systematic approach like I did last year, but I want make a conscious effort to clean out my life every time I clean up the house.