Self-Serving and Self-Defeating: Why Lawyer Image Campaigns Are Pointless

Yesterday morning, I was in Dallas, giving a presentation to members of the National Association of Bar Executives (NABE), which brings together the professional staff leaders of both voluntary and mandatory bar associations across the U.S. (and occasionally Canada, although there were no Canadians at this meeting).

I spoke to the NABE conference about the future of bar associations and suggested a number of new themes or pillars upon which 21st-century bar associations could be built. One of these was “aspiration” — my belief that most lawyers aspire to the law as a higher calling; they deeply appreciate and cherish their profession and are immensely proud to be a member of it. These lawyers seek out others who feel the same way, and they will be drawn to an organization that is equally and demonstrably invested in this vision.

There are a number of ways in which bar associations can show their commitment to aspiration: take the lead on true public-interest issues, even (maybe even especially) if they don’t always coincide with the best financial interests of lawyers. Emphasize the widespread practice of pro bono, which is an irrefutable demonstration of lawyers’ commitment to social justice. Enhance the image of the law and the legal profession, but do it in quantifiable ways that matter to the public.

But there is one thing, I told the NABE audience, that you do not want to do. You do not want to invest in an advertising campaign to improve the image of lawyers. These things, I said, never work out the way you hope.

So what did I see, upon my return to Canada, on the front page of The Globe And Mail this morning? “Tired of being the butt of jokes, Ontario lawyers plan image overhaul,” a report on the launch of the Ontario Bar Association (OBA)’s new image campaign. I’m going to annotate this article for you, because it illustrates, better than I could ever explain, why lawyer image campaigns are a bad idea.

A few disclaimers to start: I worked for the Canadian Bar Association (of which the OBA is a branch) for ten years. I occasionally do work for the CBA and I still count many friends in both locations (although neither may necessarily be the case after this post). I was involved with a similar image enhancement campaign at the CBA early last decade, and I saw first-hand just how little these efforts move the needle on the public perception of lawyers.

Here’s the fundamental problem with image enhancement campaigns: they remind everyone, in spectacular fashion, that you have a terrible image. Nobody embarks on a campaign to change people’s perception of them unless that perception is really negative, and campaigns to change that perception normally just provoke people to remember and reassert why they feel that way in the first place.

In the result, by trying to move people away from their negative beliefs, you end up breaking the cardinal rule of public relations: don’t repeat the slander. As you’ll see, this article demonstrates that rule in spades.

What do you call 18,000 determined lawyers with a generous war chest?

Answer: the Ontario Bar Association, which, fed up with being the butt of negative jokes about their profession, is launching a public-relations campaign on Thursday.

Not an auspicious start. “We’re rich, and we’re declaring war on your perception of us.”

The object: to persuade people that, far from their time-worn image as greedy and over-aggressive manipulators, lawyers are actually problem-solvers, pillars of their communities and an indispensable cog in a healthy democracy.

Let’s start a count of negative words and images about lawyers in this article: “greedy,” “over-aggressive,” “manipulators” — each receiving higher billing and more attention than the nice words later in the sentence.

… Brian Howlett, creative director for Agency59, said that lawyers’ intelligence level and confidence may also be a turnoff.

“There is probably a bit of envy,” Mr. Howlett said. “There may also be that insecurity you get when there is someone in the room who is smarter than you. The insight that stood out for us was that we all speak well of our individual lawyers, so why doesn’t it transfer when people look at the whole industry?”

Seriously? The PR agency’s head actually told the country’s national newspaper that people are jealous because lawyers are so much smarter than they are? “Lawyers intimidate you because you’re stupider than them.” I can safely predict that this one line will get more play than the rest of the image campaign put together, and will undermine whatever good the campaign might do.

… “Criminal defence lawyers are the bottom of the barrel,” [Ms. Jeethan] said. Not only are most of them poorly paid, Ms. Jeethan said, but the revulsion people feel for accused criminals is transferred to their lawyers.”

“People say that lawyers are liars; that they are manipulative people who will turn any shade of truth gray,” she said. “It’s a sad thing because at the end of the day, this is a helping profession. You are an advocate for someone, representing their interests in society and in the courtroom.”

I feel bad for Ms. Jeethan, who fell prey to the natural inclination to recite our sins before seeking correction and forgiveness. But this is a classic example of repeating the slander. “Bottom of the barrel,” “poorly paid,” “revulsion,” “liars,” “manipulative,” “turn any shade of truth gray” (that last one is a nice turn of phrase, actually). If you were crafting an attack piece on lawyers, you could scarcely have chosen better language. Once again, the positive things, because they’re trailing in the paragraph, have less impact.

[Mr. Sweeney] said lawyers feel deeply underappreciated for their social contributions and the role they play in solving problems. In fact, Mr. Sweeney said, lawyers devote a great deal of time to negotiating and mediating outside the courtroom; contributing legal expertise to charities and community boards; and, as politicians, helping ensure that legislation and regulations are legally sound.

See, here’s the problem: “lawyers feel deeply under-appreciated.” That’s why this campaign, and all campaigns like it, was funded and launched: because lawyers feel they don’t get the credit and adulation they deserve. But this is also why these campaigns fail, because people don’t care if lawyers feel under-appreciated. It’s not a problem for them. It doesn’t bother them in the slightest.

It does bother them that lawyers — whom they perceive, accurately, to be among the more prestigious, well-connected, and higher income-earning groups in the country — still aren’t satisfied. And they resent the implication that they’re the ones at fault, for failing to appreciate the beneficent presence of the legal profession in their lives. We all know people who complain about how they never get the credit they deserve. We all find these people universally annoying.

Oh, and by the way: pointing out that lawyers are also politicians is not what I would call a surefire way to improve the public’s opinion of us.

“We are trained to think critically about issues; to argue appropriately; to advocate on behalf of a position,” Mr. Sweeney said. “Those are skills we value. Words are what we use.”

This is a great example of the disconnect between how lawyers think and how everyone else thinks. From a lawyer’s point of view, these are all important, positive, and admirable attributes. From everyone else’s point of view, these are, at best, neutral. And when lawyers say, “We advocate on behalf of a position … words are what we use”, people hear, “We’ll say whatever our clients want us to say to help them get what they want.” That might not be what we mean, but it’s what people hear, and they have at least some cause to believe it.

“The typical campaign would have painted them as the champion of justice and put them on a pedestal,” Mr. Howlett said. “Our objective is to humanize the lawyer, to take them off the pedestal.”

It’s safe to say the pedestal is out of play.

“We knew this couldn’t be done overnight,” Mr. Howlett said. “We aren’t launching a new flavour of Coca-Cola, where people decide in a week if they are going to like it. We are working toward an attitudinal shift.

The launch of New Coke, most likely the biggest marketing disaster in business history, is not an example I would have used to describe my clients’ PR situation.

And finally, here’s the capper: the sidebar that accompanies the article. Because what else should you expect, in a story about lawyers’ image, but that the lawyer jokes would come rolling out?

There are a plethora of clichés and misperceptions about lawyers – and accompanying jokes.

THEY ARE GREEDY

What’s the difference between a mosquito and a lawyer?

One is a blood-sucking parasite, the other is an insect.

THEY ARE DISREPUTABLE

Why do they bury lawyers under 20 feet of dirt?

Because deep down, they’re really good people.

THEY ARE DISHONEST

Why should lawyers wear lots of sunscreen when vacationing at a beach resort?

Because they’re used to doing all of their lying indoors.

THEY DON’T HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOUR

What’s the problem with lawyer jokes?

Lawyers don’t think they’re funny, and no one else thinks they’re jokes.

Now, to be clear, I expect better than this of the Globe and of Kirk Makin, the author of this story: this sidebar is the worst type of recycled cheap-shot filler. But the media’s response to a story like this is entirely predictable. There are lawyers right now complaining about how the Globe took quotes out of context, paid more attention to the stereotypes than to the reality, and used the campaign to poke more fun at lawyers. But this is the nature of the beast. If anyone was seriously anticipating a warm, glowing tribute to the graces of the legal profession to emerge from this campaign launch, they were not remotely familiar with the modern press.

So, let’s recap all the negative terminology used in this article about a lawyer image enhancement campaign:

greedy
over-aggressive
manipulators
Bottom of the barrel
poorly paid
revulsion
liars
manipulative
turn any shade of truth gray
GREEDY
blood-sucking
parasite
DISREPUTABLE
DISHONEST
lying

Here’s the bottom line: when you start talking about your bad image, people think about … your bad image. More importantly, they see that your image is the most important thing to you — not the reality that informs your lives or their lives. Lawyers who launch image improvement campaigns come across to those they hope to reach as vain, self-regarding and pompous. Worse, they come across as out of touch about the real problems real people have with the real justice system.

Lawyers constantly say that if only people knew how much lawyers contributed to society, they would appreciate lawyers more. This is not true. Even when people learn about lawyers’ societal contributions and (perhaps grudgingly) admit these are good things, they tend to regard these as ancillary to lawyers’ primary function and overriding behaviour, and probably interpret it as self-serving.

If lawyers want to improve their image, we can start by improving reality. Make the justice system swifter, more transparent and more even-handed. Find ways to make the price of lawyers’ talents and efforts affordable to more than 20% of the population. Push harder for principled conduct rules and fewer obstructive tactics in litigation. And stop trying to put out of business lower-cost competitors who might be able to serve the very people who think so poorly of us in the first place. Think more and do more about the reality of clients than about the image of lawyers.

The one thing you learn when you try to improve your image is all the reasons why your image is so bad. If lawyers want better public perception, we need to understand why it’s so bad in the first place.

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Comments

  1. While not inclined to disagree too strenuously with the bulk of the post, I think the second-to-last paragraph commits the same analytical errors which lie behind the failure of public image-enhancement campaigns – both are predicated on a misunderstanding of why lawyers are not well-liked. Image-enhancement campaigns are premised on the notion that the public just doesn’t “know enough” about lawyers – we’re getting a bum rap, this approach says, and if we could just get people to listen to how wonderful we all are, everything would be better. Jordan’s analysis makes a similar error, but the flag is planted in a different area: the system sucks, and if we could just make the system and the experience of engaging with lawyers better, then everybody would like us more.

    I don’t think either position is remotely true. It’s not that people don’t like lawyers because they had to spend too much money on their divorce-and-child custody battles – even people who have never seen the inside of a courtroom or been on the receiving end of a statement of claim have negative impressions of the profession. Similarly, the “they don’t know enough about all the good we do” advocates misunderstand the source of the vitriol because they fail to appreciate that it’s not that people dislike individual lawyers, but that they dislike the profession and the function it plays.

    Why do individual members of the public have a negative impression of the legal profession? For an inevitable reason: because they perceive us, rightly or wrongly, as enabling “bad people” (in their view) to do “bad things” (in their view). The easiest counter-example is the medical profession – when you walk into a hospital, there’s never a doctor who’s on Team Cancer, trying to make sure that cancer wins at the end of the day and takes down the patient. That’s not the case for lawyers: there’s always a lawyer on whatever side you perceive to be the “bad guys”, doing what they can to make sure that side triumphs (or at least is not impeded in carrying out its desires). That’s our job – it’s an integral part of the advocacy function of the profession, and only if we eliminate that advocacy function (which, to be clear, we shouldn’t do) would we address the fundamental origin of anti-lawyer animus.

    If the public perception of lawyers has declined over time, that’s not because lawyers have gotten worse, but because our society has gotten more juridified: (almost) everything is now reducible to a legal fight, and there’s inevitably going to be a lawyer on the other side of the fight from which an individual observer stakes their emotional claim. That’s fine – it’s part of the package we signed up for when we took our oaths. The notion that it will be possible to materially alter public perception of lawyers is wrong-headed not because the wrong tactics are being used to accomplish the goal, but because the goal is itself largely unachievable.

  2. Bob, I’m going to use that “Team Cancer” phrase in future (with attribution) — awesome.

    Your objection is well taken, and speaks to a failure on my part to make explicit an important point: I don’t really care, and I don’t think the profession ( with one exception) should really care, about whether lawyers are liked or not. If someone has a need or strong preference to pursue a career in which they will not face blanket criticism, then the law is not for them.

    What we are called upon to do as lawyers is tough, often unpleasant, and frequently unpopular. That’s not a bug; it’s a feature. One of the reasons self-regulation is so important is that we can’t allow the unpopularity of what we sometimes do to interfere with our ability to get it done. So one of the first things a lawyer needs to do is accept that she will suffer slings and arrows throughout her career, and the more difficult her type of practice, the more intense the slinging. We will rarely be loved, as lawyers, and I’d like to see more lawyers understand and accept that.

    My fundamental problem with lawyer image campaigns is that they ignore this reality. They prefer to compromise or sugar-coat the challenging, often divisive nature of the legal life. It’s like a Canadian Forces ad that shows all the rescuing and peacekeeping and other very nice things that soldiers do — it’s wonderful, but it hides the fact that soldiers are for the most part called upon to do very difficult things for the public good. You can have a great image if, like doctors, you practise an uncomplicated and straightforward profession. That is not law.

    Now, for the exception. I do think there is a valid * business* reason to improve the image of lawyers: because we want to encourage clients to hire us, and they probably will be more likely to do that if we’re not pariahs. Maybe this didn’t matter so much when lawyers were the only game in town: love us or not, you have to hire us. But with new options entering the market and many, many more on the way, we need to be alive to the business ramifications of a lousy brand.

    But again, this is not the kind of image campaign we’re discussing here. A campaign to highlight why you should hire a lawyer, as opposed to going with a non-lawyer option, would not be talking about stuff like “Why I went to law school” and other feel-good sound bites; it would be about the many excellent reasons why lawyers are the better option for expertise and reliability. I would get behind a campaign like that, and I think that’s exactly the kind of service a bar association could provide and deliver great value to is members in the process.

    But trying to take a complicated, challenging, and sometimes inherently unpopular calling like the law and dressing it up to look nice for our personal satisfaction? I don’t see the point.

  3. I doubt that the public estimate of lawyers is worse now than 30 years ago or 50 years ago. I recall a particularly meretricious story in the Ottawa paper when the CBA had its annual meeting there, probably 1976, which reported two stories of clients complaining about their lawyers: one because the lawyer was too aggressive and poisoned the atmosphere, and the other because the lawyer was too chummy with his opponent. In short, two opposite criticisms; the lawyer can’t win.

    But it’s important to note that it’s not just about litigation, where there is another side (though it often is about criminal law, where as Jordan says, and the criminal lawyer in the article says, the public is inclined to associate lawyers with their clients). Solicitors often have to inform clients of technicalities that make it harder and more expensive to do what they want. Bearers of bad news are not popular.

    Many lawyers write badly, in unnecessary legalese or just bad English (based on ancient but bad precedents). That does not make them popular either.

    I don’t think Jordan is so very wrong in pointing out systemic issues that lawyers could help to set right (though not always cure by themselves), with some reputational benefits accruing. There are many good things to say about the profession and many of its members, both in how they practise and in how they contribute to the community. Putting those messages into the context of ‘we’re so unfairly unpopular’, though, does not seem to be a promising strategy.

    How does any of this – the image problem or a potential solution – fit with Mitch Kowalski’s frequent pitch (and Jordan’s, of course) for a more flexible professional practice? Would adopting any of their proposals improve the reputation of lawyers, or just their economic prospects? (Jordan’s response above to Bob T appeared while I was writing this; he’s started to respond to this question…)

  4. Daniel Goldenberg

    This is a terrific discussion, though probably not a very practical one. I absolutely do not support any kind of public image campaign targeted at brightening the image of lawyers in the public eye. I don’t see the point.

    I haven’t lost business because of the apparent negative public sentiment of the profession. Nor have I suffered public humiliation when it has been revealed in a public space that I am a solicitor (and technically a barrister as well). I enjoy lawyer jokes, perhaps even more than I enjoy architect jokes. It would be a shame to destroy that and to so destroy the modicum of joy which comes with being able to tell these jokes with impunity (Anti-Dentite anyone?).

    It is likely a fools errand to try and discern the source of the public’s negative sentiment towards the profession – indeed, I am not even sure that there really is broad negative sentiment. I don’t dispute that we believe there to be negativity, and our portrayal in film and television is frequently negative (Al Pacino in the Devil’s Advocate), but I’m not sure that this is an accurate gauge of the public’s perception of lawyers. I should note here that any survey asking this question would probably be self fulfilling.

    I believe that our society has become more cynical as it has progressed into the information age. There is negative sentiment about everything. Negativity is de rigueur – over the past several months we have seen swaying public opinion about everyone from politicians to teachers and back again (also A-Rod). If anything, to be hated is to be popular – at least we are in the public consciousness – and any publicity is good publicity.

    **this MAY contain some tongue-in-cheek elements.

  5. John, thanks for your response! My approach to lawyers as a commercial entity is based on my near-certainty that the legal market of the future will include many providers, of which lawyers will be just one. Given a market far more crowded and price-competitive than today’s, but with a customer base not appreciably more sophisticated in its ability to assess quality of product, lawyers will be under great pressure to distinguish themselves from the competition. How do they do that?

    Well, I’ve been arguing for awhile now that when lawyers do need to show we’re the superior choice, our ethical standards, practice insurance, and professional indemnity system will be among our greatest assets. If we need to persuade a client to retain us rather than log in to a computer, we’ll naturally play up our professional strengths.

    That turn of events alone would very likely do wonders for our image. We’d be out there every day, explaining why our standards and ethics and training and history make us the better choice. How many lawyers and law firms are out there today, in the market, saying that? Vanishingly few.

    Why? Because we feel we don’t need to — it’s not a competitive advantage. Every other lawyer shares our standards and rules and whatnot; that doesn’t distinguish us, so we don’t talk about it. But put us into a diverse, dynamic and aggressive marketplace of providers, and suddenly we’ll be out there telling the world about this stuff.

    That’s the disconnect that many people seem to have when it comes to opening the legal market to “non-lawyers.” They say it’ll damage the ethical foundations of the legal profession and the legal market. I say it will only strengthen them — so long as we engage and respond with our best attributes.

  6. And just for the record, I’ve been in very few multi-disciplinary rooms in which the lawyer was the smartest person in the room. It’s a myth.

  7. Old Words, good advertisement?

    Shakespeare’s plays were a wonderful advertisement for the legal profession. He inserted legal themes in his plays to help spice up the language and provide an important public service message: “Good counselors lack no clients”. (Measure for Measure)

    What is it that people really care about? Best efforts, results and some peace of mind for spending my hard earned bucks on your legal services.

    Advertising is an never-ending game of pursuit which becomes increasingly irritating and unbelievable the more you are subjected to the sell. At this rate, you won’t be in the public consciousness for any longer than it takes this quasi-cynic to change channels.

    That would be a NO on the image overhaul. Here’s a thought: Offer Something New.

  8. Jordan, completely agree! You can never convince people you are worthy of respect by telling people you are…

    Reminds me of the survey that showed people who didn’t know a lawyer had little respect for lawyers. People who knew a lawyer had a higher opinion and those who had actually hired a lawyer thought highly of lawyers.

    Just goes to show, once you get to know us most lawyers are pretty decent folks…

  9. Dear Jordan,

    It pains me to ‘bite’ on this one, because I suspect my view will only add fuel to the fire, but I am strongly in support of the OBA campaign and I am compelled to explain why.

    I’ve led or been involved in more lawyer image campaigns than most — three at last count, on behalf of CBA members in BC. Each campaign has been focused very simply on reminding people of the good that lawyers do in the world. Perhaps most importantly, they have reminded LAWYERS of the good that they do in the world.

    The media and blog coverage I’ve seen of the OBA’s campaign has been very light on the actual details of what’s being done, and that’s a shame. This campaign taps into an essential emotional undercurrent that is desperately needed in today’s world of legal practice. In the face of great cynicism and crushing business and other pressures, this campaign invites lawyers to step forward and remind the world, and themselves, of why they went to law school in the first place.

    I disagree with the view that this isn’t money well spent. I see lawyers every day, of every age and economic bracket, who are struggling to remember the meaning behind their career choice.
    They are all bright, talented and immensely starved of the passion that initially led them to study law. If we are to genuinely improve the perception of value that lawyers bring to society, then it is not simply a new business model we need. It is a re-ignition — and recognition — of the fire and purpose that led excellent people to pursue this profession in the first place. The results will speak for themselves.

  10. As pretty much always, I agree with Jordan – and even Bob Tarantino!

    The fact that OBA is spending (many would say “squandering”) member fees on such an abstract venture, says more about the OBA itself than about lawyers.

    There is a TV adage that is used when a show does something crazy in a desperate search for purpose/ratings; it’s called, Jumping the Shark.

    Much as a failing TV show jumps the shark, this campaign reeks of a desperate need for OBA leadership to show OBA members why they should continue to pay membership fees to the OBA.

    Has the OBA lost its purpose?

    Is this a last-ditch effort to show members that the OBA is still relevant?

    If so, no amount of expensive “feel good” advertising campaigns will change that.

  11. Consider this. One of the finest lawyers in Canada today is Omar Khadr’s lawyer. That’s a double edged sword image wise. Unless people fully appreciate this quote from A Man for Seasons:

    “William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
    Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
    William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
    Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake! ”

    And they generally don’t, lawyers will never win a popularity contest. That’s just the way it is. One consolation though, is that the number one hero in film is Atticus Finch. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AFI's_100_Years…100_Heroes_%26_Villains

  12. Note, the title should be A Man For All Seasons

  13. Great discussion!

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. I remember reading a survey a few years back along the lines that (going from memory) a huge number of people had a negative opinion of lawyers but had a very positive opinion of their own lawyer. If people hate us because of what they read in the paper, I don’t how you would ever fix that with ads

    2. One reason people have a negative opinion is because of what goes on in the U.S. Anyone who watched Jim “the Hammer” Shapiro slowly lose his mind over a series of TV ads knows what I’m talking about

    3. Further to The Wet One’s point, another reason people have a negative opinion is because of the media-fuelled perception of what criminal lawyers do. How much would the OBA have to spend to win a PR campaign against an a Sun columnist?

    My clients think I’m terrific, the guy on the train next to me thinks all lawyers are weasels. I think that’s good enough.

  14. “The media and blog coverage I’ve seen of the OBA’s campaign has been very light on the actual details of what’s being done, and that’s a shame.”

    yeah boo hoo, people don’t “get” our ill conceived campaign.

    I’m with the poster, the OBA is just throwing that money away, what they should be doing is spearheading community building initiatives and leading by example. You don’t need a PR campaign for that, you just go out and do it.

  15. There are many reasons people dislike lawyers. Surely one is that some people resent having to pay someone else to resolve their problems, particularly when the laws that apply often seem deliberately obfuscating. However, like Jordan, I don’t really care why people hold lawyers in disrepute. The questions is what to do about this problem, if anything.

    Despite the adage that “words are mightier than the sword”, when it comes to reputation and image, I believe the converse is true: that actions, not words, count for everything. If we want to improve our image, then let’s forget about ad campaigns and focus more on delivering what clients need and want: honest, hard working, respectful and principled people who can help resolve legal problems; trusted advisors who understand the issues and the desired outcomes, who bring knowledge and experience to bear in a manner that moves the parties towards those outcomes, who strive to deliver value (as perceived by the client) and base their fees on that value.

    Succeed in delivering that and you’ll benefit from a good reputation and image. The added bonus? You’ll never want for clients, either.

    As an aside – by far the best lawyer joke I know involves three professionals (a doctor, an engineer, and a lawyer) walking their dogs in a park. It really is very funny. Unfortunately, the language is too “blue” for me to include it here.

  16. I saw members of the OBA on CBC speaking about this campaign. I saw a picture of a lawyer I thought I recognized and I thought “what could she possibly write about herself that is positive?” Enough said.

  17. It’s probably true that some people consider some members of the legal profession to be at least as moral as used car salesman, certain members of the clergy, carnival shills, some professional athletes, politicians of all stripes (think Mark Twain), and criminals.

    Those of you who care about what “those people” think about the generic you might ask yourself why you care.

    To me, this discussion is equivalent to a dispute between many Toronto Maple Leaf fans and those who know something about hockey.

    For our American readers: think Yankee haters and people who know baseball.

    For the rest of the world – consider the position of what you call “football” (aka soccer) in North America.

  18. Popularity vs. Creativity?

    What message do I think the public would like to see and hear from the OBA and its’ members?

    That they are committed to investing in a business model(s) which can offer more Canadians access to justice which is affordable.

    Would the public tune into a positive message like this?

    I know I would because the message is that the profession cares about the “fishes in the net”
    who have no way of escaping a justice system that is broken. This approach has more chance of challenging stereotypical attitudes and residual negative press and is good advertisement . What more do you need to reignite your passion for your profession?

    Incidently, I will add my vote for Mr. Dennis Edney’s nomination as one of the finest and genuinely caring lawyers in Canada.

  19. If lawyers want to improve their image, we can start by improving reality. Make the justice system swifter, more transparent and more even-handed. Find ways to make the price of lawyers’ talents and efforts affordable to more than 20% of the population. Push harder for principled conduct rules and fewer obstructive tactics in litigation. And stop trying to put out of business lower-cost competitors who might be able to serve the very people who think so poorly of us in the first place. Think more and do more about the reality of clients than about the image of lawyers.

    +1
    Is the objective of the OBA campaign to bring in more client work long term, for laywers or what? It is interesting that such effort (and cost) is spent on an public relations campaign when some other professions are almost lackadaisal in promoting their public image: ie. engineering. Another profession that is abundant with stereotypes (of which some of it is true –techie, doesn’t consider human factors in infrastructure design. Well, it’s not part of the mandatory course curriculum. Any civil/mechanical/electrical engineer will tell you that.).

    Perhaps in the end, is not losing sight of the reasons why one entered into the legal profession in the first place. If it was for the right reasons, the lawyer would not need an ad campaign.

  20. JChong – one point about the engineers and some of the other professions is that in many cases they have the regulator and the advocacy body living in one organization. I think accountants are largely in the same boat. It makes advocacy on behalf of members very tricky because of their parallel mandate to regulate in the public interest. I suspect they would be better at advocacy if they had a model more like ours and the doctors.

  21. Although the article says that criminal lawyers are the most despised ones in the minds of the public, I think personal injury/tort lawyers have this label because they impose costs on society and business such as hefty insurance premiums (somebody has to pay for that award money), and reduce personal freedom due to the banning of certain activities due to fears of litigation. Also, such lawyers tend to aggressively advertise to encourage suing, which has fueled this litigation-happy culture, unfortunately.

  22. I love this article! Thank you Mr. Furlong for taking the time to write such an in-depth piece.

    And, for those attorneys that don’t care what the people think of them, well that is part of the problem, don’t you think?The people believe they are paying the attorny’s high fees to care about them. Authenticity and compassion is what makes a great lawyer.

  23. Lawyers could fix their image problem quite simply: by doing even half-way decent customer service. The number one complaint against attorneys? They don’t return phone calls. I’ve talked to thousands of them and they have an impressive list of reasons they can’t do the kind of service that the local hardware store — to pick a random example — manages to do quite well. Here’s an article I wrote on the subject 7-8 years ago. Thing haven’t changed much: http://www.smartmarketingnow.com/articles/scripting-client-experience/

  24. Many thanks Mark Merenda for your succinct and accurate recommendation and to Jordan for raising this topic. Instead of an advertising campaign, investing in training lawyers on techniques for efficiently and effectively understanding each client’s needs and delivering appropriate legal advice that meets those needs in the style (pit bull versus dove of peace) appropriate for their client’s circumstances is money that is much better spent.

  25. Exceptionally well written piece and commentary.
    David