Lawyers like to think of themselves as members of one of the most helpful and important professions in American society. All too often, however, we encounter suspicion, derision or open hostility, not to mention nasty jokes. Public and private criticism of lawyers in the United States has become noticeably more intense in recent decades, but we have rarely attempted to survey its range, explore its roots, assess its legitimacy, or evaluate our own responses to it.
This course proposes to do these things by examining characterizations and representations of lawyers in American culture from colonial times to the present day. We will relate changing views of American lawyers and lawyering to shifting social and professional circumstances; we will also explore the impact of those circumstances on fictionalized depictions of lawyers in American plays, novels, films, radio and TV, humor, art and song. We will consider what members of other prominent groups in American society – from 17th Puritan clergy to 20th century businessmen – have said or alleged about lawyers. We will also discuss how, where and with what effect lawyers have presented, promoted and defended themselves before the American public. We will conclude the course by considering how lawyers might learn from past experience and leverage the opportunities and challenges of 21st century law practice to restore or at least improve their public standing.