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Last month, Tod Aronovitz, the new president of the Florida Bar, was flying back to Miami from Pittsburgh when he came across a column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa. The column, written by sportswriter Joe Starkey, said that since LaRussa is a lawyer, he “might have been, well, lying.” It ended with the sarcastic statement “Even a lawyer can be trusted on that one.” Furious, Aronovitz whipped out a piece of paper and penned a long letter to Starkey, copying the newspaper’s editor, the president-elect of the American Bar Association, the president-elect of the Pennsylvania Bar, the president of the local Allegheny Bar Association and, for good measure, Tony LaRussa. Aronovitz cautioned Starkey to remember his responsibility as a journalist and that his columns influence young minds. Next on Aronovitz’s hit list: the TV show “The Practice,” which he calls “a grotesque mischaracterization of what lawyers do.” As the new president of the 53,000-member Florida Bar, Aronovitz says his main goal is to boost the image of lawyers and “get out the story” of all the good work lawyers do. Aronovitz and the Florida Bar are launching a public relations campaign they call “Dignity in Law.” The Bar has budgeted $750,000 this year for the campaign and hired RBB Public Relations in Coral Gables to help in the effort. The Bar is asking all members to donate $45 for this campaign. “Maybe 1 percent of lawyers get in trouble and that’s what you see in the newspapers,” says Aronovitz, with Aronovitz Trial Lawyers in Miami. “You don’t hear about the thousands of lawyers and judges who help people every day, whether it’s writing a will or settling a family dispute.” But Aronovitz clearly has work to do. According to a recent survey of 750 households conducted by the ABA, only 19 percent of Americans are “extremely” or “very” confident in lawyers and the legal profession — a lower rating than doctors, members of Congress and judges received; only journalists earned less confidence. The study found that the negative perception of lawyers led to fewer people hiring them. Of the 71 percent who said they could have used legal advice in the last year for a home purchase, car accident or other event, only 45 percent hired or planned to hire one. REAL PEOPLE STORIES Already, nearly 800 lawyers have sent in their $45 checks along with their annual membership fee. According to Aronovitz, law firms such as Greenberg Traurig, Ruden McClosky Smith Schuster & Russell, Carlton Fields, and Kluger Peretz Kaplan & Berlin have pledged donations from all their attorneys. While the campaign is still in the formative stage, Bar officials say it will consist of real people telling stories about how lawyers have helped them or their families. The first video was premiered last week at the Florida Bar annual conference in Boca Raton. It featured a middle-aged, bespectacled woman sitting in her home talking about how a Hollywood, Fla., lawyer named Michael Greenwald helped her 90-year-old father. “There was an instant bond between the two of them,” said Linda Redstone, the woman in the video. “From the moment my father met Michael, he liked him and this feeling was genuinely reciprocated. “Since neither of my father’s daughters lived in Florida, as the years progressed, this attorney became a safety net for my father,” she continued. “If something was bothering Dad, he would simply call Michael. His telephone number was kept on the refrigerator.” She ends by looking into the camera and stating, “All too often in this day and age, attorneys are viewed in a negative light. I want to cast a positive light on one Florida attorney whose professionalism and kindness are greatly appreciated.” Redstone was asked to do the videotaped interview after she wrote a letter to the Bar commending Greenwald. Aronovitz is soliciting lawyers and judges to send in their own success stories about people they have helped for possible inclusion in future videos. When told he was starring in the Bar’s PR campaign, Greenwald laughed. A solo lawyer who answers his own phones, Greenwald, 40, says he’s flattered to be featured in the campaign. “There are other clients I would think I had impacted more,” he says. “I wasn’t aware they were going to feature this so prominently. It’s great.” BAR HALFTIME SHOW? At first, Aronovitz wants to simply show the tapes to other lawyers at various bar groups around the state. But he has hopes of creating a multimedia presentation for theme parks and football games — maybe even the halftime show of the University of Miami-University of Florida game. There will be no print ads or TV commercials because the Bar doesn’t have enough money to run that kind of campaign. “We could spend the entire advertising budget of the Florida Bar and not have an impact,” he says. Joanna Wragg, a principal in the public relations firm Wragg & Casas in Miami, says that while the $750,000 budgeted by the Bar isn’t enough, the Bar has a valuable asset in persuading the public: lawyers. “Local bars can use their own lawyers for speaking engagements at the Rotary Club and at civic classes,” she says. “They have a huge stable of highly skilled volunteers trained in public speaking and with a vested interest in the outcome.” Her advice: “I would let the campaign run for a year and then do a poll of lawyers and see if you move the needle.” The campaign is long overdue, Wragg says. “The business community and medical community have been complaining for years about lawyers being too litigious and the like,” she says, “and there has not really been a response from the lawyers.” Aronovitz is calling on Bar members to tell their friends how proud they are of the legal profession. He urges lawyers to risk sounding humorless and alienating their friends by doing what he does when someone tells him an obnoxious lawyer joke. “I say, ‘Don’t tell a lawyer joke. It’s insulting to me and to my family. My clients like me. I simply won’t put up with it.’” Cesar Alvarez, chairman of Greenberg Traurig in Miami, says he plans to send a personal message to all 830 of his lawyers asking them to donate $45 for the Bar’s image campaign. “The image I see expressed in the community about lawyers is different from what I know about lawyers,” he says. “There is a lot of good work being done by lawyers. They work very hard for their clients and sacrifice a lot.” Dean Colson, managing partner of Colson Hicks Eidson in Coral Gables, agrees. “While I have as much a sense of humor as the next guy,” he says, he is “constantly” bombarded with offensive lawyer jokes. Colson says this is grossly unfair because lawyers are heavily involved in charitable and civic work. At his own firm, for example, Mike Eidson is chairman of the Miami City Ballet, Roberto Martinez is chairman of Miami-Dade Community College Board of Trustees, and Joe Matthews is chairman of the YMCA of Miami. Colson himself serves as vice chairman of the University of Miami Board of Trustees. “Who does stuff like that other than lawyers?” he asks. “You can go to an accounting firm or medical office and those folks are not involved with these things. It’s ingrained in lawyers.”

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