Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness,” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s column is written by Karen Munoz.
I had dinner with a relatively new friend who is a professional photographer the other night. We met because she did my headshot for our firm website. She is a smart and I think worldly person. As we got to talking, I discovered her photography studio is part of a work-live loft cooperative she recently bought. Coincidentally I have been looking for a place to buy this past summer. As we discussed Chicago real estate, and the joys and headaches of buying a home, she brought up how great her real estate attorney was. She went on to describe her as an extremely nice person who knew what she was doing and highly recommended her.
I mentioned to her that I had for a split second thought about doing my own closing but realized what a mistake that was. She agreed with me and we talked about how different transactional real estate closings are from what I do day to day as a litigator. It is a completely different animal. She then said, and this is what struck me, “all the real estate lawyers I have met are so congenial in contrast to litigators.”
I quickly jumped in and I said, “now that’s totally a stereotype.” I questioned why she felt that way. Other than me, had she ever met a litigation attorney, I asked. Maybe you have had one bad experience but I can assure you on a day to day basis, that’s not the case. I felt as if I was being personally attacked even though I am sure that was not her intention. Most litigators are nice people. Even if we have to take adverse positions in a case, at the end of the day, we are not mean and nasty. I agree I have met some really not nice litigators but I have also met some really not nice mechanics, doctors, cab drivers and grocery store clerks. It’s a part of life.
It just seems that the stereotype of a mean litigator pervades our social culture and once that occurs it becomes hard to reverse. One of my first experiences with a litigator came via way of the 90’s movie Clueless. Cher’s dad was a mean litigator and she said in our first introduction to him she says, “Daddy’s a litigator, those are the scariest kind of lawyer”. That portrayal stayed with me for a long time. That is until I met real litigators who changed my perception.
Film and TV portrayals of lawyers live and stay in our collective psyches. I think as litigators we have to try even harder than other professionals to set the record straight about what we are really like. I take offense to the perception of litigators as scary and uncivil. It’s a false view. We don’t fight, we advocate. I will do everything I can in my day to day career to dispel that notion by practicing law in a manner consistent with the ideals I believe in. Truth and fairness. Respect for others. Until we all do this, the stereotype will live on.