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Editor’s note: This column first ran on May 12, 1997

The decay of personal responsibility is well documented in the telephone book.

The evidence is in phone books such as the Pacific Bell Smart Yellow Pages. You can find it under the heading “attorneys.”

“Attorneys” ads cover 50 pages in the 1997 Stockton edition and 45 in the Stanislaus County edition. In both books, they’re the leading advertisers.

Glance through the Yellow Page ads and you’ll find that preoccupation with legal remedies are what ails America.

There are a lot of us who seem to flock to lawyers like moths to a porch light whenever we run afoul of our legal obligations, wiggle out of paying the price for breaking the law or want to blame someone else for careless,  personal behavior that inflicted pain, suffering and damages on others.

There are a number of lawyers who understand this based on the text of their large display ads in the Yellow Pages.

There’s one ad that proudly brags that the lawyer “recently won the largest medical malpractice suit in California history.”

One firm that specializes in helping drunken drivers has a catchy phone number: 1-800 24 HR DUI.

Then there’s the bankruptcy legal beagle that uses the phone number 1-800 8-5 NO DEBT. One just assumes 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. are the hours that he works.

There are a number of ads that feature the Christian symbol and then go on to tell you the lawyer specializes in personal injury and criminal law. As a Christian, does this mean they are more interested in justice? If that’s the case, do they bother to finds out whether their clients are guilty of rape and try to convince them to repent and face the music or else do they do what criminal lawyers are trained to do — mount the most vigorous defense for the client in a bid to get them off the hook?

As for personal injury suits, if the evidence shows negligence on the part of their client contributed to the situation do they go to court recommending only a percentage of the medical bills and other costs be assessed to the subject of the lawsuit while having their client absorb the rest? I think not.

You can find an attorney advertising the fact he gives discounts to union members accused of drunken driving. I don’t know how to read that, but you’ve got to wonder whether it is the start of a trend that may end up putting attorneys in legal fee maintenance organizations so they can enjoy the same squeeze on pay for their services that doctors do with health maintenance organizations.

It would be a nice trend. The lawyer represents you in a DUI case that typically averages $7,000 for legal fees. Thanks to your legal fee maintenance organization, though, you are only a few dollars out of pocket and your provider only pays the lawyer 35 cents on the $1 of his billings.

There are fun ads with monstrous type screaming “JOB INJURIES” and “WORKERS’ COMPENSATION.” Both are lucrative fields for legal fees requiring attorneys to get more brazen than the next to attract your attention.

I kind of like the ads that show you a photo of the lawyer as if this is how you should select legal representation. Maybe it’ll start a trend and we’ll start seeing photos of doctors in the Yellow Page ads that they place.

The true legal narcissist has a personalized toll free phone number that incorporates his last name with the standard 1-800.

The toll free number angle is used in many effective ways. One law firm simply has three lines “ACCIDENT? 1-800-4-INJURY. Free consultation.”Another lists its number as 462-HURT.

Trade associations of lawyers also advertise as the “Lawyer Referral Service.” It is sponsored by the local bar association and brags that it is a local, nonprofit legal organization.

The naive Yellow Page browser looking for a lawyer might assume this is a consumer protection service that might be able to recommend lawyers independent of pressure from the local legal community based on performance. Even the catch line, “Before you pick a PERSONAL INJURY lawyer from the phone book, call us” makes you think they’re a truly independent organization. Guess again.

Also, you’ve got to wonder the fascination the Lawyer Referral Service has with personal injury lawsuits since that is the only potential legal action mentioned in the ad.

Obviously, there are times when a lawyer is needed. The Yellow Pages ads, though, have such a carnival barker appearance that you have to start wondering about the standard refrain from many lawyers that the volume of litigation they pursue is because there is a demand out there that has to be met.

If that were the case, lawyers would follow the example of physicians and advertise with a bit more restraint.

The practice of law isn’t about justice. It never really has been since the best interests of your client and how you can obtain such a goal is often not the same as justice.

The aggressiveness of Yellow Pages advertising also makes it clear the practice of the law is big business.

The tone of a growing number of the ads, though, makes you start wondering if one day we will see a lawyer with the ultimate honest, but catchy phone number: LUV-2SUE.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or (209) 249-3519.