Is that they can't freaking win.
Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of bad lawyers. I worked in the legal field once, and I've seen lawyers compromise cases and lie to clients just to save themselves some work. I've seen lawyers mock their clients and denigrate them to friends and colleagues--even opposing counsel. I've seen trade-offs where one client is sold down the river, so to speak, so that the lawyer can get the deal he wants on another case.
It can be ugly.
But there's ugliness in every profession.
The thing about lawyers is that if they're "only in it for the money", that's some kind of stigma, even though pretty much everyone does his or her job primarily as a means of supporting himself and his family. Lawyers are expected to be somehow more noble. They should help people who need help regardless of whether or not they can pay, because...well...I've never heard an end to that sentence. The theory seems to be that it doesn't cost them anything to help, but of course that's not true. There are a limited number of billable hours in a day, and I'm a firm believer that everyone--absolutely everyone--should give some of them away. But I also know from personal experience that there aren't enough hours in the day to handle all of the problems of the people who come to a law office begging and pleading for free help--people with legitimate needs and cases. Any attorney who said yes to all of them would soon be working 80-100 hour weeks without making a dime, because there wouldn't be any time left for paying clients, and even so would soon have to start turning people away. It's a problem. A serious one. But not one that the average attorney can solve just by saying yes to everyone who walks through his door.
The place it really breaks down for me, though--the thing that really seems unfair--is that lawyers who are "in it for the money" are evil, but lawyers who are in it for something else...something like truth and justice, maybe...are reviled just as thoroughly. I doubt that there's a criminal defense lawyer on the face of the earth who hasn't been asked contemptuously, "How can you...?" and heard the smug, superior, "Well, I could never!" And sometimes it's worse than just an attitude.
For instance, look at the recent radio commentary by former Pentagon official Cully Stimson egging corporations on to penalize law firms providing pro bono representation to Guantanamo Bay detainees. The public outcry over that statement led to Stimson's resignation, but it seems it was only because he was dumb enough to speak up in public. In the wake of his resignation, military lawyers appointed to represent Guantanamo detainees are reporting that their careers are suffering and that they're being actively discouraged from doing the job too well.
So, it seems like if you're an attorney, you're damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Zealous representation is bad--it means you're "on the wrong side". Just doing your job is bad--it means you're "in it for the money".
Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of bad lawyers. I know a lot of bad lawyers. But I begin to wonder if by our current social standards there can be any good ones.