Many of us have seen the billboards on our way to work in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania which feature a pregnant woman – or a baby – stamped with the words “potential lawsuit.” The tagline reads, “To lawyers, all Pennsylvania patients look the same.” For many of us who do not practice in the medical malpractice field, these statements are very disturbing as a broad brush attack on the lawyer profession. We have all also heard the many lawyer jokes such as “What do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the sea?” I think it is time that lawyers, especially young lawyers stand up for this noble profession and remind the public and ourselves the difference lawyers have made in this country and the world.
Rather than a potential lawsuit, I think when a Philadelphia or Pennsylvania lawyer see a baby, they think of the potential that baby has to grow up and take advantage of all the freedoms and opportunities provided by this country. However, without lawyers, one wonders what future this baby would have. Because of lawyers and judges, that baby will no longer grow up in a country where they will be forced to go to a particular school based upon the color of their skin. If that baby one day is accused of a crime, he or she will have the right to an attorney and right to a jury of his or her peers. Regardless of sex, that baby will someday have the right to vote. When that baby seeks a job someday, he or she will have the right not to be discriminated against because of race, gender, or age. The list of recognized or implemented personal or civil rights because of lawyers is endless.
However, lawyers have not stopped their fight for personal and civil rights with this country. Rather, they see the “potential” a baby has in other countries. The American Bar Association and its members have literally sent thousands of lawyers, professors and judges abroad to help countries write or rewrite their constitutions, reform criminal justice systems, develop environmental regulations and more.
When someone starts out with a joke about what to do with a number of lawyers, I have a response. What do you do with thirty-four lawyers in Philadelphia? You write the greatest governing document in human history, the American Constitution. Of the fifty-five men assembled to write the Constitution, thirty-four were lawyers. Of those thirty-nine who signed the final draft, twenty were lawyers. Putting together a bunch of lawyers has produced some wonderful things.
Unlike any other profession, you will find more lawyers performing community service on school boards, councils, charities, and religious organizations. Lawyers contribute their time and money to political causes. In short, when it comes to public service, no other profession compares.
I am excited to be serving on the Public Image Task Force put together by our president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Tom Golden. I think lawyers need to stand up for their profession. I hope all of you will do your part in explaining to your clients, friends, and neighbors all the good things lawyers do. When my two-year old son someday asks his Daddy and Mommy what we do when we go to work, I look forward to telling him that we are lawyers, and lawyers help people. And, I hope to tell him that rather than a potential lawsuit, he is actually viewed as human being that has unlimited potential to do anything, because of the freedoms and liberties that lawyers have fought for.
Printed by permission by Author, Workers’ Compensation Judge Todd B. Seelig
First Printed in the Pennsylvania Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Publication, At Issue, 2003.