Recognizing the apparent dislike and derision that much of the public feels toward the bench and bar, the author of The Noble Lawyer takes up the task of defending lawyers and explains how, despite these attacks, the profession as a whole can regain its status as a noble one. William Chriss begins his examination of the public’s perception of the legal profession by analyzing the causes of the enmity that the public has for the lawyer and why it feels the need to engage and takes great pleasure in lawyer-bashing and lawyer-hating. Positing that the jury trial and the law of torts are at the core of this anti-lawyer movement, Chriss traces the history and developments of tort law, especially with respect to negligence, and identifies some of the factors that have exacerbated this aversion to lawyers, such as the rise and prevalence of lawyer advertising and the larger jury verdicts like those found (and readily publicized) in personal injury cases. He notes, too, that circumstances in the 1970s turned the public against the law in general and eventually against the lawyers and that lawyer jokes were no longer limited to poking fun at the work lawyers did but morphed into criticisms of the attorneys themselves as individuals.
The author does present a bright side, though. He provides examples of lawyers throughout history who embodied the notion of nobility that he believes the attorneys of today could attain once again. He cites such legal icons as Cicero, Bartolomé de las Casas, and Abraham Lincoln, not to mention the most beloved fictional noble lawyer, Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In the end, the author exhorts his fellow lawyers to become more proactive in changing the public’s perception of the lawyer as a greedy, amoral character, for, as he concludes, “the key to educating a conflicted public…is for lawyers to be nobler.”