Lawyers get a bad rap. And here is what they are doing to break those negative stereotypes.
It seems like every time you turn on the television these days, there’s a new sleazeball lawyer character you love to hate. From the corrupt Saul Goodman on “Breaking Bad” to the bafflingly incompetent Barry Zuckerkorn on “Arrested Development” to the money-hungry Jackie Chiles from “Seinfeld,” these characters are entertaining, but they don’t create a very positive image of the real people practicing law.
Lawyers have been trying to escape the stereotypes of their fictional counterparts for decades. How can lawyers break through these common misconceptions and build reputations for themselves as honest, trustworthy, and hard-working?
The answer is simply to move beyond those sensationalized stereotypes and create a new reality for clients.
1) Misconception: Attorneys are money-hungry ambulance chasers.
Reality: The best way to counteract this stereotype is for lawyers to be upfront and transparent about services and fees. Before an attorney takes a client on, he should give the client an idea of the monetary commitment he’ll be making. Many firms are moving toward using more contingency-fee agreements with clients, meaning if the client isn’t compensated for his injuries, the firm isn’t paid for its services. This may result in the practice incurring some monetary losses, but it allows more people access to legal consultation.
2) Misconception: Attorneys are known for not returning phone calls, dodging client questions, and never giving clients the attention they need or deserve.
Reality: There’s a simple solution to this: pay attention to people! It’s important that lawyers develop strong relationships with clients by returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner, as well as making sure their clients’ needs are met. They need to provide clients with updates on their cases and advise them of the different stages of litigation so they understand the work happening behind the scenes. By making communication and client rapport a priority, the payoff will be great—for both the client and the lawyer.
3) Misconception: Attorneys are cold and don’t really care about their clients.
Reality: Good lawyers invest themselves in their clients’ cases — mind, body, and soul. Good lawyers care about their clients, care about what happened to them, and care about the outcome of their cases (and not just for financial or statistical reasons). Supporting clients emotionally, sharing personal stories to show empathy, and reassuring them of the passion firms have for the work they do are all part of making sure clients know they’re in good hands. A lack of attentiveness is a red flag for everyone involved.
4) Misconception: Attorneys are self-centered and corrupt.
Reality: Part of the solution to this misconception goes back to building a good rapport with clients and caring about their cases, but another part is becoming an active member of the local community. Firms — as well as individual lawyers — should be donating time and support to local causes and organizations will help dissolve the clichéd image of a lawyer. They can sponsor sports teams, work in soup kitchens, help send an academic group on a school trip, organize a blood drive, or participate in any number of outreach ideas. Showing commitment to a community is a powerful way to break down the walls built by sensationalized TV characters.
5) Misconception: Attorneys get things to the courtroom as quickly as possible because that’s where they can steal the spotlight.
Reality: It takes a lot more time for cases to get to the trial or resolution phase than television has led people to believe. Clients may think things aren’t moving along quickly enough, but in reality, much of the work done behind the scenes is the most important. Good representation makes sure the client recovers everything he is entitled to, so doing a thorough investigation, gathering sound evidence, and building a strong case are important components to take care of before going to court. Even the back-and-forth of settlement negotiations takes time. Clients should be made aware of the estimated timelines of their cases, as well as remain informed of the work firms are putting in as they go along. This helps them see the hard work being put toward their best interests.
Lawyers definitely get a bad rap on television, but that doesn’t have to be the reality people see every day. Firms can break through the stereotypes by proving their dedication to their work, community, and clients, and clients should make a point to seek these qualities in the law firms they work with. Who knows? Maybe a noble television lawyer will be based on a lawyer you know someday.
Photo: mccaffry / flickr