Public Relations And That Lawyerly Image

When last we checked, the United States was still a country of laws, which is good. But where there are laws, of course, there must be lawyers, which somehow seems less good.

The incongruity is nothing new. Attorney jokes predate the Magna Carta.

Maybe it’s the perception that the adversary system is too much about winners and losers and too little about right and wrong. “Taken to the cleaners” has always been more about law suits than dry cleaning.

Perhaps it’s because a lawyer must represent, say, a John Walker Lindh or an Alejandro Avila. Maybe it has something to do with medical malpractice nightmares. Or counselors whispering Fifth Amendment advice to their corporate clients. Or barristers clogging up the system on behalf of the fat blaming fast food or the disabled demanding lap-dance access. And you can still make a pretty good case that there’s a basis for “the best defense money can buy.”

Perception, of course, is reality. It is also selective.

It also has been reinforced by that out-of-context, “kill all the lawyers” quote from Henry VI, which seems so supportive of lawyer stereotypes and drastic reform.

To the Florida Bar, however, enough is enough, including Shakespearean quotes. To Tod Aronovitz, its new president, such tales and perceptions, full of sound and fury and lawyer jokes, signify nothing but cheap shots. That’s why the Bar has embarked on a $750,000 public relations campaign to combat the stereotypes and shore up the legal image.

Locally, there’s no one better positioned to address the campaign than Tampa personal injury attorney Rod Brooker. In a previous incarnation Brooker was a prominent public relations practitioner. Before making a mid-career change, he had been the well-regarded managing director of PR for the late advertising icon, Louis Benito.

Brooker doesn’t mind weighing in on the issue. And, yes, he has sent — per Aronowitz’s request — an extra $45 PR-campaign-contribution along with his $265 annual Florida Bar dues.

He sees an obvious irony. “We lawyers are advocates; it’s our duty to do the best job we can for our clients,” Brooker explains. “When someone is mangled in a car accident, my only duty is to recover as much money as we can. In the course of events, it’s going to upset others, including the other driver, but I’m just doing the best job for my client.”

But yet, he acknowledges, “We don’t do a very good job of explaining what we do to the public.”

So any campaign, he says, would need to be heavy on statistics, such as the dollars and hours associated with pro bono work. “I think you probably start with the macro story of the good things Florida lawyers do in the aggregate,” says Brooker. “The good works of the Florida Bar

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