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Why People Don’t Trust Lawyers

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An insider’s look at lawyers in Israel.

Full disclosure from the outset – I’m a divorce lawyer. I was raised in the United States and practiced law there until 2004 when I made Aliyah. And I’ve been practicing family law here in Israel since 2009. I’ve seen my share of lawyers in real life. I’ve stood opposite them in court where battles have been fought. We’ve sat around the negotiating table together where agreements were made. (My preference by far.) I AM a lawyer! So, I think I’m pretty qualified to give you an insider’s look at why people don’t trust lawyers.

Why are lawyer jokes so funny?

I have heard my share of lawyer jokes. I even share one each month in my newsletter. Have you ever wondered why people like (and laugh at) lawyer jokes? Just as with jokes about anything, lawyer jokes are funny because we believe that there is truth to what we’re hearing.

  • What do you call 1,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start.”
    People don’t like or trust lawyers and if one is present in someone’s life it means something is amiss.
  • “How cold is it outside? So cold that the lawyers have their hands in their own pockets.”
    Lawyers are in it for the money, over charge and pad their work for billable hours.
  • Why are lawyers so good at racquetball? Because they stoop so low.
    Lawyers will do anything to win a case and defend the indefensible.

Do lawyers in Israel have the same negative image?

Lawyers in general, have the reputation of being untrustworthy, uncaring, unsympathetic and never available. Unfortunately, there are many lawyers here in Israel who live up (or down) to these characterizations. I have met quite a few myself. In my opinion, some of this is the result of the challenges of life in the Middle East and some can be attributed to personality. Having said this I want you to know I have met and worked with some wonderful Israeli attorneys. And I’m hopeful that as our little country grows and becomes more international, there will be many more.

What are the contributing factors?

When you come to live in Israel from an Anglo country one of the first things you notice is the lack of lines. No lines for the bus. No lines for a falafel stand. Everyone is in a hurry and pushing and shoving to get there. The aggressiveness is so different from ‘back home’. I think there are a couple of reasons for this behavior.

  1. Our nation has lived under the daily threat of bombs and attacks since the modern country came into existence in 1948. Because of that I think there is a need to get things done, now. Whatever it may be. It feels as if daily life can be disrupted at any moment
  2. Most of the country’s population has served in the army and had to learn to protect themselves, literally. I once heard someone say, “Israelis don’t drive, they aim.”

This aggressive ‘win at all costs’ stance that I see so often from Israeli lawyers could very well be one of the contributing factors as to why people don’t trust lawyers. They are willing to advise their clients to hold out, demand more and go for the jugular. This often turns a divorce case into World War lll, unnecessarily.

How important is a lawyer’s personality?

And sometimes, the other lawyer has indeed chosen his profession for the money. He knows he’ll make more if he brings more suits in each case. So he’ll advise his client that litigation is necessary to get the best deal. I had a case recently where I offered a settlement on behalf of my client. (The judge actually stated that she thought it was fair.) But the other lawyer insisted his client bring another suit with additional evidence that would prove she was entitled to a bigger settlement. In the end, the extra litigation cost the client money she didn’t need to spend. The judge ruled that the original offer was completely in line with the new evidence as well. And the ex-spouse ruined any good will that was left between herself and my client.

The biggest legal stumbling block to an amicable divorce is not what you think.

The legal system in Israel is so unfamiliar to an Anglo immigrant. Not only is it conducted in Hebrew, but many of the laws are different as well. We have two court systems here. The secular Family Court and the Religious Court. Anyone going through a divorce has to deal with both. What is the race for jurisdiction in courts in Israel? And then there’s the client who wants to go in aggressively and take their soon-to-be-ex for everything they’ve got.

But surprisingly, it isn’t the complicated legal system or even the clients themselves that are the biggest stumbling block to an amicable divorce. You guessed it. It’s the lawyers. In my opinion, an individual attorney’s personality traits coupled with the Israeli cultural influences affect how he or she represents their clients. It’s no wonder that when it comes to divorce, people believe getting attorneys involved will make matters worse between a couple. The recent movie on Netflix called Marriage Story, illustrated this quite powerfully.

What is a good lawyer?

Lawyers are human. I know, for some that’s debatable. But I can tell you from personal experience, it’s heartbreaking to meet people going through one of the worst experiences of their lives. But it’s an attorney’s responsibility to stay calm and focused even when their client is upset. He or she must be able to gather all the facts of the case by listening compassionately and asking the right questions. A good attorney knows that he or she is the wrong person for their client to rely on for emotional support but that it’s very important that they get it. So it’s always a good sign when a lawyer offers access to a professional counsellor that he trusts. The 18 questions to consider before hiring a divorce attorney.

A lawyer can play an exceptionally important role in the future of a family. When mediation is offered as a very real path towards divorce, an attorney is focusing on the client instead of his own bottom line. Litigation is very expensive and often results in losing any possible financial gains. It may very well be possible to reach a mutually beneficial agreement and avoid long and expensive litigation. Having a couple work together instead of against each other sets the stage for a calmer and more stable future for the kids and the extended family. Six steps to a happier future – using a comprehensive divorce agreement.

A good lawyer knows that an educated client is an empowered one and is better able to make well informed, responsible decisions for their family’s future.

What is a Global Fee?

The first question people want answered when they are thinking about hiring an attorney is, “How much will it cost?”

If your lawyer charges global fees you pretty much know from the outset what services he or she will be providing and how much it will cost. He quotes one price for a specific list of services. The fee could include for example, writing documents, filing them in court, a set number of mediation meetings with the other lawyer and spouse, etc. The details are decided upon by each attorney. A lawyer who charges global fees will explain any extra costs ahead of time. They will keep you informed as your case progresses. While it’s not so common for lawyers in Israel to charge global fees the world trend is having an affect and it has begun to change.

There are reasons for optimism.

Things are looking up. Even though people don’t generally trust lawyers and the jokes are here to stay, there are some lawyers in Israel setting a much higher standard than ever before.

A good lawyer will do everything he or she can to help educate you on your individual legal challenge even before you hire them. Look for videos and ebooks as well as articles and webinars. It’s now possible, more than ever before, to find an attorney that you feel comfortable with. One who speaks your language and who you trust to help you get the best possible outcome for your family.

So, take it from an insider. There are good trustworthy attorneys out there. I know this is true because I have had the privilege of working with them.

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