A few weeks ago, the Pew Research Center released the results of yet another survey evaluating the reputation of lawyers in the world at large. Unfortunately — and perhaps not surprisingly — it’s more bad news for members of the legal profession.
In fact, the survey, which asked how significantly each of ten occupations contributed to the well being of society, found that lawyers came in last place, right after business executives. Just 18% of respondents indicated that attorneys contribute “a lot” to society’s well being.
Interestingly, looking back to 2009, the last time this survey was taken, lawyers had been up a notch, in ninth place, but they flipped places with business executives this year. Perhaps this is an indication that the Great Recession has faded into history and business executives are on the rebound? Whatever the reason, lawyers slipped a spot just in the last four years.
Atticus Finch or Gordon Gekko?
Looking back over the last 50 years, the noble character of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird certainly inspired more than a few idealists to become attorneys. (In fact, Atticus, played by Gregory Peck in the film, was named by the American Film Institute in 2003 as the greatest movie hero of the twentieth century. If you haven’t seen the movie, see it.)
Unfortunately, it’s clear that most of our fellow Americans view the average lawyer today as being much more like Gordon Gekko than Atticus Finch. (Perhaps that’s why lawyers and business executives are lumped together, no matter what order they’re in.)
Are you surprised by these results? Perhaps not, as many attorneys have heard this negative stereotyping for so long now that it almost doesn’t register anymore.
And yet, it does matter. It matters because you are an attorney — and like it or not, you are therefore lumped in with the very unfair image of lawyers that the public seems to willfully embrace.
The Good News
But there’s a positive. This negative stereotyping provides you with the opportunity to distinguish yourself from all the bad attorneys out there. Not to mention the chance to separate yourself from all the so-so (or even great) attorneys who don’t think that taking proactive steps to brand themselves in a positive way is necessary. Many don’t think it’s important, and others don’t believe it’s possible.
However, in these competitive times, it’s not only possible, it’s absolutely essential to use marketing and public relations to show how you’re different and separate yourself from the pack. Marketing and PR are not for. me; they’re for you. And when done in a thoughtful and strategic manner, they can help to create a brand for you and your law firm that can make you stand out in a very positive way.
Yes, the fact that most Americans view most lawyers as Gordon Gekkos means that you need to work extra hard to demonstrate that you’re not like all those other guys. But the effort will be worth it, because if you have even half the heart of Atticus Finch, you’re the attorney that every client would love to have.
The Rest of the Story
Looking back at this most recent survey, it’s not surprising that members of the military came out on top. In fact, 78% of respondents stated that members of the military contributed “a lot” to society’s well being. And such high esteem is well deserved for those who are willing to give their lives every day in service to their country. Behind them, in order, were teachers, medical doctors and scientists. Engineers rounded out the top five, with a 63% rating.
The numbers dropped precipitously after that, with members of the clergy coming in at #6 with 37%, artists at 30% and journalists at 28%. As mentioned, business executives came in at #9 with 24%, followed by lawyers, in tenth place, with just 18% of respondents stating that members of the legal profession contribute a lot to the well-being of society.
Yet, as we discussed, these numbers don’t present an insurmountable problem for you, the practicing attorney. Instead, they’re actually a golden opportunity to demonstrate just how different you are as a lawyer or a law firm. The public wants to know about you, and the right marketing and public relations can make a big difference. Carpe diem.