Why Do People Dislike Lawyers?

Andrew C. Spiropoulos, OCU law professor

Andrew C. Spiropoulos, OCU law professor (photo from OCU School of Law website)

An Oklahoma City University law professor has raised the question: “Why do people dislike lawyers?”

Andrew Spiropoulos, who teaches at OCU and is a fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, says a few “bad” lawyers are to blame. Spiropoulos expressed his opinion in a recent Journal Record guest column, “Right Thinking: When lawsuits should be avoided.”

Spiropoulos criticizes attorneys who encourage plaintiffs to file civil lawsuits “when there isn’t enough evidence for a reasonable person to be sure that the defendant is responsible for the harm.” He says such lawyers hope “to shake money out of the defendants,” whose lawyers will advise them to settle “because it costs less to pay off the plaintiff than to defend the lawsuit.”

Professor Spiropoulos is right. Lawyers who encourage their clients to file lawsuits, even when there is no evidence to support their claims, just hoping to catch an easy settlement, are bottom feeders and give the legal profession a bad reputation.

I am a trial lawyer. I represent clients who have experienced real injuries and other kinds of harms and losses. When a person’s damages are the result of someone’s wrongdoing or malicious intent or negligence or recklessness, they have a right to their day in court. I am proud to be an advocate for such people.

I don’t know how lawyers who just look for the low-hanging fruit make a living. Putting on a civil case is a huge investment, and most plaintiffs’ attorneys don’t get paid a dime unless they win their cases. An attorney must interview the clients, gather evidence, conduct legal research, write the petition, show up for court hearings, and that’s just the start. Then there is discovery to exchange, witnesses to interview and depositions to take. It is all quite time-consuming, and there is considerable overhead involved. I can’t imagine starting that process for a case you knew did not have any real merit.

And frankly, for the reasons I have just offered, I’m certain the problem is not as widespread as Professor Spiropoulos implies. I’m certain because it would be foolish for me to pursue a frivolous lawsuit.

Why? For one, I’d be wasting my time (and money) because the likelihood of recovery on a frivolous suit in Oklahoma, in my opinion, is nothing. Like most plaintiff’s attorneys, I work on what’s called a contingency-fee basis. That means I only get paid when my client does. It also means that I’m advancing the litigation costs to pursue the lawsuit.

It’s hard enough to get an insurance company to pay when it’s a clear cut reason that they should, but Oklahoma citizens aren’t going to award money on a jury if there isn’t a compelling and legal reason to do so. Meritorious cases are hard to get jury verdicts on. Did you know that there are more defense verdicts in Oklahoma than plaintiff verdicts?

The professor mentioned a specific example: the recent lawsuit filed against the estate of Olin and Paula Branstetter, who were killed in a 2011 plane crash along with OSU basketball coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna.

According to Spiropoulos:

“This case, based on what we know, never should have been filed, and, certainly, once the NTSB’s report on the crash was released, should have been dropped.”

Spiropoulos says he does not blame the families of the OSU coaches for filing the lawsuit: “I blame their lawyers.”

Well, it will be interesting to see how that lawsuit plays out and compare the outcome to what Spiropoulos has written. If the lawsuit is quietly settled, then maybe the professor was right. However, if it eventually comes to light that the plaintiffs do have a legitimate basis for their claims, then all Professor Spiropoulos accomplished with his opinion piece was to unfairly confirm the negative perception some members of the public have of the legal profession.