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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Trust me - I'm a Lawyer

It seems that a majority of consumers say that they do not trust lawyers.

In a recent survey by the Legal Services Consumer Panel just 43% said that they trusted them. This is a real problem especially as other suppliers including the Co-Op and Eddie Stobart are now in the market for providing legal services.

It is fair to say that lawyers have always had an image problem. I can remember years ago as a newly qualified solicitor being told by a colleague that someone had said all lawyers were like bananas – yellow, bent and normally hanging round in bunches.

TV Dramas don’t help. In soap operas the lawyer is normally a rogue, is a complete wet blanket or battling with an addiction.

Even in quality dramas like Silk, solicitors do not exist unless they are a love interest for the main characters or criminal bullies!

These are false images but ones which are deeply entrenched.

So what can we do to increase levels of trust?

Lawyers were seen by most people as expensive money grabbers. For ordinary people those days are well and truly in the past. Most litigation is run on the basis of no win no fee agreements which do not involve any cost at all to the consumer. Conveyancing work is so competitive that high quotes just mean the client goes elsewhere. But clients are still afraid of excessive fees so there is a communication issue there somewhere.

There are some mega rich lawyers in the big City Firms but there are the minority now. Some legal aid lawyers are very low paid.

So it is really a question of relevance and communication. Lawyers do huge amounts of free work but do not shout about it. It is even hidden behind a Latin phrase – pro bono, as if we are embarrassed to say what it really is. Many lawyers spend hours on voluntary projects or lobbying elected representatives on behalf of their clients. But very little is ever said about this.

Now I’m not promoting a hug-a-lawyer week! Even I wouldn’t go that far.

But I do think all lawyers need to look at how they and their businesses are perceived by their communities. It is by active engagement that these distorted images can be changed.

There has never been a better opportunity for this through the arrival of modern social media. A lawyer who tweets is a lawyer who is in touch. A lawyer who is active in the virtual world is seen as a real person – ironic but true. But above all we all live and work in real communities and if we are going to build trust we have to be involved but also let the world know!

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