Maintaining trust and credibility in the legal profession
June 4, 2021
It is no secret that trust is one of the most important parts of the attorney-client relationship, yet survey after survey have reported the relative standing of attorneys on “trust” and “ethics” perceptions to be among the lowest occupations tested. (Although ratings significantly improve when respondents are asked to rate “my lawyer.”) How can lawyers fight this disconnect in opinion?
Lawyers have an ethical obligation to zealously represent their clients. The common law system is an adversarial one, with ritualized combat used to resolve both civil and criminal cases. In spite of ethical rules attempting to navigate these gray areas, the inevitable result of the combination of the ethical duty and the adversarial system is truth bending, creation of false impressions, disputing apparently obvious facts, and discrediting of credible persons. This is all overseen and conducted by judges and lawyers, of course, leading to a well-documented erosion of trust in the legal profession.
Here are some ideas for attorneys concerned about this erosion of trust in the profession.
The staff of Illinois Supreme Court on Professionalism (“2Civility”) recommends four concrete steps to help build trust in the profession, issued following the George Floyd killing last summer.
Ensure That Diversity & Inclusion Remains a Priority for the Legal Profession
In the 2019 NALP Diversity Report, data showed that “despite small increases in the past three years, the representation of Black/African-American associates remains shy of its pre-recession level, and representation of Black/African-American partners has barely changed since 2009.”
Support Community Efforts to Impact Change
Many local community groups are not only protesting but also creating new policies for change. For example, Campaign Zero created #8CANTWAIT, a campaign aimed at inspiring cities to adopt eight policies in their police departments that may reduce harm and help prevent violence.
Offer and Participate in Training
The court system can be perceived by minority communities as “the tip of systemic racism’s spear,” as the Salt Lake City Justice Court phrased it. Participation in local training and information programs can help dispel this image.
Create Alliances and Participate in Collaborative Efforts
Apply the specialized knowledge attorneys have in broader work with community stakeholders to have a bigger impact and elevate the profile of the profession.
In an article entitled, “What can lawyers do to combat their bad PR?,” the American Bar Association Journal offers these ideas for overcoming the “trust gap” for individual practices:
- Public relations campaigns on behalf of attorneys as a profession have not produced positive results.
- TV and radio ads by lawyers, especially those that are poorly written and produced actually erode trust; ads that inform, on the other hand, improve trust.
- Building an online brand through educational postings, informative and relatable videos, and client testimonials can be very effective.
- Social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, used intelligently and strategically with a personal voice, can nourish the trust connection among lawyers, clients and the public.
Communication is the common key in all of the literature about building trust. Using the advanced communication tools Smokeball offers can significantly enhance the quality of your client communications, at a lower cost and in a consistent manner, than a do-it-yourself approach, when every communication to a client requires a separate decision and email.
In summary, there are means available to all attorneys and firms looking to advance both the standing of the profession and their own fortunes.
- The staff of the Illinois Supreme Court on Professionalism recommends inclusion, involvement, and outreach beyond the profession.
- The ABA recommends avoiding negative and aggressive advertising; better to focus on building a positive personal/firm brand.
- Support legal licensing and discipline – this is consistently cited by the public as a trust factor for the legal profession. Smokeball can help you stay on the right side of your ethical obligations, and avoid one of the most common causes of malpractice – neglect of the calendar.
- Become more efficient; don’t make “unforced errors;” use Smokeball’s cloud-based law firm management software to advance your practice, retain talented people, and improve your bottom line.
Smokeball can help. Contact us today for a free demonstration.
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