Study Shows Lawyers Seen As Competent But Not Trustworthy: How Your Firm Can Get Out Of The Gutter!

Why do so many people hate lawyers?

No, this isn’t another set-up for a lawyer joke. As a legitimate question, Victoria Pynchon for Forbes explains:

“People hate lawyers because they represent the interests of people and corporations without really caring who they are, what they did, what harm they caused, or, how culpable they are.”

The practice of law, rather, legal representation, is a right of American citizens. As such, it seen as a public service. So when powerful men in power suits undermine the “little guy,” people get bitter.

Isn’t the law supposed to be helping the public, not hurting them?

“It’s OK to hate lawyers because the top of the profession—which wields true economic and political power—continues to run its operations as a old boy’s club, making it less diverse than the GOP.”

Well, that explains it then. Or does it?

“As I’ve written before,” continues Pynchon, “cronyism runs law firms. And because cronyism—you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours—duplicates itself in gender and color, the power in BigLaw is concentrated in the hands of a few white men… And that’s a problem for the rest of us.”

In the end, the bearish reputation of BigLaw dominates the news. So local stories of law firms doing good or pro-bono work for communities take the back burner.

It’s no wonder lawyers remain one of the most reviled professions.

Luckily, attorneys—like misery—have company.

In a recent review, published by the Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), lawyers are viewed as “competent but not trustworthy,” alongside CEOs, Accountants, Researchers, Scientists, and Engineers.

Of course, in this small continuum, attorneys are at the bottom of the scale (see the diagram here—literally at the bottom).

Apparently Americans are wary of a few experts-in-their-fields. The public distinguishes between professional respect and warmth. So, you can be wonderful at your job, but not necessarily a wonderful person (and the reverse, as is the case for child care workers, who are seen as mediocre in competency but high in warmth).

“Scientists have earned the respect of Americans but not necessarily their trust,” explains lead author Susan Fiske, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology and professor of public affairs, according to PhysOrg.

However, there’s hope to improve.

“But this gap can be filled by showing concern for humanity and the environment. Rather than persuading, scientists may better serve citizens by discussing, teaching and sharing information to convey trustworthy intentions.”

The same applies to attorneys. Your social skills may be holding you back, but there are myriad ways to increase that coveted bedside manner.

Here are a few simple things to remember:

  • Don’t do all the talking—work on your listening skills. Clients want to feel heard.
  • Use phrases that convey compassion, like “yes, that must be really hard for you,” or “I understand this is difficult to hear, let me know if you need a minute.”
  • Communicate over the phone or in person—clients value being valued, which means stop dropping cavalier e-mails.
  • Provide solutions—don’t just point out the problems with a person’s case, provide solutions. There’s always a work-around, “Plan B”, or even long-shot to be tried—so try it!

In the end, clients want to see you’re as hopeful of a positive outcome as they are—and not just because of the billable hours.

Need to brush up on some leadership skills? Listen to C4CM’s audio course, “Attentive Listening: Essential Tips and Techniques to Effective Leadership and Overall Success.

Leadership applies not only to your own team, but the team you build with both colleagues and clients.


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