From time immemorial authors and men in public life have delighted in poking fun at lawyers, suggesting that they are either dishonest or deceitful. Even the great Sir Thomas More characterized lawyers as ''people whose profession it is to disguise matters.'' His definition was gentle but insulting.
Well, I'm a lawyer and I'm proud of it. I think the profession as a whole has a bad press, and it makes me mad.
The fact is that lawyers are not as bad as jokesters make them out to be. Their public relations are bad because of the work they do. They are in the middle of controversies. Lawyers are hired to advance one side of a controversy. Generally the people on the losing side have no great affection for the winning lawyer. Most people like their own lawyers, and it's human nature to regard the lawyer on the other side of the case as a shyster.
Kindergartners bring an apple to the teacher. But nobody brings an apple to the lawyer.
I once heard an educated and responsible man say, ''Jack isn't a liar exactly; he's a lawyer. Lawyers are trained to circumvent the facts. Don't be too hard on him.'' And he thought this was a loyal defense of his friend the lawyer. This is a shocking misconception of what a lawyer is trained to do. And the worst of it is that many people believe that lawyers are paid to lie. They also believe that, if a person accused of a crime has enough money, he can hire the best lawyer to lie him out of a conviction.
It is true that a lawyer is sworn to be faithful to his client. But professional loyalty does not carry with it the obligation to manufacture false testimony to protect a client's interests nor to condone bribery or perjury.
A lawyer's reputation for integrity and experience can be checked through the local bar association or a reliable merchant or your own banker. Beware of a lawyer who is guilty of unethical practices, such as soliciting automobile accident cases.
But remember what Elihu Root, one of the greatest public servants in American history, stated: ''For every detractor, we find a thousand men and women who trust their lawyers implicitly in their most intimate and vital affairs, with the frankness and confidence of personal friendship, and who are justified in their trust.''
George G. Coughlin is a past presid