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July 1, 2008

Lawyers rule; doctors...drool?

There has always been a little rivalry between lawyers and doctors, hasn’t there? A certain amount of jealousy about the other’s place in society, a bit of resentment about the way "they" do things.  But it’s really sort of a silly exercise isn’t it - trying to determine which of two professions is "better?” Law and medicine are each noble callings, their histories littered with towering figures like Clarence Darrow and Jonas Salk, their ranks today filled with some of our brightest minds. And "better" how? Is there any reasonable way to determine superiority when there is no standard against which to measure? It doesn’t even seem rational to compare and contrast such dissimilar bodies. But I did anyway.
JulyAug 2008 - Lawyers Rule; Doctors Drool - balance drawing
And lawyers are way, way better.
At this point, I am legally required to disclose that I am, in fact, a lawyer. The truth is, I don’t think this is at all relevant and if I had my way I wouldn’t have told you. I believe my objectivity is beyond question. But after seeing a draft of this article, the editors of this fine publication insisted that I make the disclosure. Ironically, when I refused, they sued me.
I can’t reveal any of details of my defense, other than to say that in her written decision the presiding judge called my presentation "the lowest, meanest display of personal vitriol that [she] had ever encountered in over 20 years on the bench," after which she added that I "offended not only these editors but also basic standards of decency and fair play."  It is always nice to hear compliments about your work, but it would have meant more if she’d ruled in my favor. While my appeal is pending, the editors wisely decided to print this article, knowing full well that I would counter-sue them if they pulled it.
This leads directly to the first reason why lawyers rule and doctors drool:

1. People fear us

When people meet you at a cocktail party, they are impressed and interested in what you do. They love to munch on crackers and cheese and hear your riveting stories about saving lives and easing the troubles of the suffering. When they meet us, they put on a fake smile, get sweaty palms, and suddenly lose their appetites. Depending on just how guilty their consciences are, some even get a little dizzy.
When they are in need, they come to you. When they’re not even looking, we come after them. Everyone knows it’s better to be feared than loved. We lawyers get to live the dream every day.

2. Lawyers are physically stronger than doctors

Admittedly, I base this on one specific instance of moving an antique bureau, but the results were startlingly clear. My lovely wife, who just happens to be a doctor, could barely hold up her end as we struggled to get that behemoth down our basement stairs. Sure, going backward down the stairs made things more difficult for her, but it’s her own fault she wasted so much energy cursing at me. And, yes, there is a reason I had the lighter end - it’s called scouting things out the night before. While I may have told her that each end weighed the same, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that lying is perfectly acceptable if done in the service of your client, in this case, my back.
Unfortunately, my client didn’t feel all that great after spending the next several nights on the couch.

3. Less time spent dealing with body cavities

Unless, of course, we are trying to collect a fee from a client - in which case we’ll reach pretty much anywhere.

4. Black robes beat white lab coats

It’s not just that black is a way more intimidating color than white; it’s also the length of the garment. You can wear just about whatever you want under those flowing black robes - or nothing at all. I have it on good authority that Chief Justice Roberts wears only his birthday suit under his robe during oral arguments at the Supreme Court. Also, admit it: You feel silly wearing white after Labor Day.

5. Square footage

It always amazes me when I go see some hot-shot doctor at a big city hospital and his office is the size of a moderately spacious walk-in closet. There’s no way a partner in any reputable law firm would stand for having an office smaller than the parking space for his car. Sure, doctors save lives and all that, but what good is being heroic if you don’t have enough room for sports memorabilia, photographs of yourself with famous people, and pieces of modern art that show everyone exactly how much of the world you’ve seen in person and exactly how much money you’re willing to shell out for misshapen artifacts of your exotic travels?

6. No call

Seriously, try calling a lawyer at 2 a.m. with a problem that you thought just couldn’t wait until regular office hours. The only emergency you’ll have is if he knows where you live. In that case, you should hang up and immediately call the police.

7. Size does matter

What’s with those little reflex hammers?  They don’t exactly inspire awe. It’s a skinny little stick with a pink nose on it. You hit my knee with that undersized thing and my leg moves - big whoop. On the other hand, a gavel is a big old piece of lumber that says "I’m in charge here. Let’s take a two-hour lunch recess!"  A gavel is a powerful, solid weapon. Let me tell you something - I smack you in the knee with that thing and your leg won’t be moving at all for a few weeks.

8. Lower expectations

People want miracles from their doctors every day; a procedure to correct the problem, a pill to ease the pain, an antidote for whatever ails them. That’s a lot of pressure. Thankfully, law is not a results-oriented business. That’s because we don’t ever completely finish anything, what with all the motions, hearings, and appeals that drag on for years and years until the client passes away, forgets what the original problem was, or is sent to prison for trying to kill her lawyer.
On top of that, your patients want you to be nice to them. They’re looking for warm chats about their cholesterol with a few stories thrown in about summer vacations. That’s probably the last thing they want from us. Who wants a "nice" lawyer fighting for them?  Not only is it OK if we’re nasty and abrupt, it’s a badge of honor.

9. Professional associations

You belong to a "medical society" or "medical association." We belong to a "bar association."  You tell me, which sounds like more fun?

10. Peace and quiet

Doctors are essentially on the job 24 hours a day. When you see a fellow human being in distress you are trained to offer appropriate medical assistance, vacations and dinner plans be damned. Not us. Have you ever heard a flight attendant yell, "Is anyone on board a lawyer? This man’s having a tort attack. We’ve got to shock him!"
If it isn’t scheduled, if no one in the office set up a billing account, we are not to be bothered. Our practices just don’t operate that way. We live on patience, delay, and hourly billing. The wheels of justice turn slowly - and profitably.

11. Television

Apparently, you haven’t figured out that a great way to get business is to advertise on television. Perhaps most of you have a fear of public speaking. Maybe you’re waiting to take acting lessons.
But nothing has done more to raise the image of our profession than having a bunch of older, very serious looking men appear on late-night commercials reminding folks that it is their right as Americans to sue somebody if they’ve been injured at work, in a car accident, or during a medical procedure.
Of course, we only suggest this for appropriate cases where the defendant’s actions clearly demonstrate either that she is at fault or that she has significant assets. In these select cases, we lawyers will work tirelessly on behalf of the client until a settlement or judgment can be reached that will pay for our club memberships and alimony.
I could go on, but what’s the point?  Even my physician wife can’t seem to spend enough time with lawyers. Why, just last week she said she’s been talking to one about the state of our marriage and that I could expect to hear from this lawyer in the very near future. She even went so far as to say that from now on if I wanted to speak to her I should do it through her lawyer. Have you ever heard of a married couple communicating through their doctors?  I think not.
Jim Silver is a former public defender and freelance writer. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and children (at least, before she read this).



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