Why Are Lawyers So Unpopular and Stressed?, a post by Mark Cohen at LegalMosaic, makes the point that a lawyer's healthy self-image is tied to a healthy professional image. This is not a new problem, of course. Lawyers have been the object of ridicule for about as long as there have been lawyers. Across centuries and cultures literature is rich with attorney caricatures and criticism of attorneys who fall show of our profession's ideal.
But lawyers are right to worry that social media and advertising pose new an unprecedented and fundamental threat to the profession's resiliency. Fortunately, the same market forces and technology that are creating this new danger also may hold the key to substantial improvements in access to justice, and a lasting improvement in lawyer image. SBM Immediate Past-President Tom Rombach and President Lori Buiteweg both emphasized the State Bar's commitment to addressing the threats and opportunities in their remarks at the Annual Meeting Inaugural luncheon last week.
Cohen's post, too, touches on many of the issues and remedies at the center of legal futures discussions, and now being thrashed out by the State Bar's 21st Century Practice Task Force.
Lawyers will be happier when they restore public trust. Delivering more value, speaking plainly, being more transparent, embracing innovation, responding to the needs of the marketplace, providing affordable service for all who need it, focusing on delivering solutions, utilizing tools available to deliver legal services more efficiently and collaboratively, and recognizing that “just being a lawyer” doesn’t often cut it anymore would go a long way towards making lawyers more popular and happier.
Working together to examine what the accumulating evidence about public perception, lawyer competencies, the cost of legal education, and unmet legal needs tells us is an essential first step, and Michigan is taking it.
The path SBM has embarked on seems a bit more promising than the upcoming National Love Your Lawyer Day (who knew?!) on November 6. As they have been doing for 14 years, the American Lawyers Public Image Association (ALPIA) is asking people to show love, appreciation and thanks to lawyers and judges everywhere on that day:
We encourage the American public to shower their favorite legal eagles with sincere affection: a phone call, a card, or even flowers or a gift. That also means no lawyer jokes and no lawyer bashing on that day! In return, we ask all attorneys to perform one hour of pro bono work or donate one billable hour to a charity like the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Don't get me wrong: I am all for improving the image of lawyers, and for respecting and appreciating lawyers and judges every day. SBM's A Lawyer Helps aims to do just that in a sustained way by persistently highlighting the real-life stories of our members' improving access to justice and contributing to the betterment of their communities. But telling the public to lay off lawyer jokes for a day strikes me as, well, a joke, likely to inspire more jabs at us than to quell them.
As it happens, October is Pro Bono Month in Michigan and around the country. Click here for Michigan resources on how to participate.