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LAWYER-BASHING BANDWAGON GATHERS SPEED IN POP CULTURE

SHARE LAWYER-BASHING BANDWAGON GATHERS SPEED IN POP CULTURE

Need proof that our view of lawyers has taken a dramatic turn for the worse? Just look at popular culture.

Any profession whose image goes from Atticus Finch, the righteous lawyer in "To Kill A Mockingbird," to Arnie Becker of "L.A. Law" in a generation has serious public relations problems.Lawyer-bashing has bubbled up in advertising, hit films, best-selling novels and the ever-popular lawyer jokes.

Legal suspense novels by Scott Turow, John Grisham and others show lawyers who begin as idealists and are slowly corrupted in the practice of their profession.

The public's low regard for lawyers may be a factor in recent low ratings and cancellation for "L.A. Law," whose images of irreverent yuppie lawyers helped fuel a jump in law-school applications in the 1980s. The NBC series, which ranked 42nd in the past season, aired its final episode May 19.

And legal dramas, once a Hollywood staple, with truth and justice triumphing in the end, are becoming hard to find.

Movies now tend to portray lawyers as the public perceives them - greedy, cynical, powerful mercenaries who twist the truth to suit their cases.

In "Class Action" a lawyer represents automakers who concealed a deadly design flaw because it would cost more to fix than to fight the wrongful-death lawsuits.

In "Regarding Henry" a domineering, manipulative lawyer becomes gentle and sensitive - but only after being shot in the head.

In "Cape Fear" a lawyer hides evidence that could free his brutal client and hires thugs to beat him when the convict seeks his revenge. In "The Firm" lawyers work for the Mafia and kill suspicious partners.

In "Philadelphia" the city's top law firm forces out a good young lawyer because he has AIDS.

And audiences at "Jurassic Park" cheer when a dinosaur's dinner is a lawyer.

Advertisers have joined the lawyer-bashing bandwagon.

A Reebok ad declares that on "a perfect planet" there would be no lawyers.

The Miller Brewing Co.'s Miller Lite commercial "Big Lawyer Roundup" shows rodeo cowboys lassoing a "hot shot" divorce lawyer and an obese tax lawyer.

The beer ad was pulled last July after a disgruntled client killed himself and eight others and wounded six at San Francisco's Pettit & Martin law offices.

In the wake of that tragedy, Harvey Saferstein, then president of the State Bar of California, demanded action to end lawyer-bashing, which he labeled a form of hate crime.

But his proposal went nowhere, and lawyer-bashing jokes continue to proliferate.

A law career is one of the few professions with its own genre of ridicule. There are very few engineer jokes, pharmacist jokes or accountant jokes.

For a group to evoke so much gleefully nasty humor, it has to generate a lot of resentment.