Everybody hates lawyers . . . until they need one

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A 2013 study by the Pew Research Center found that only 18% of Americans think lawyers contribute “a lot” to society. For comparison, consider that 72% said the same thing about teachers, and 66% about doctors. What a drag. No one wants to go to work every day feeling like the world doesn’t see your value. But, as I insisted in my last post, there is more to this story. And there’s hope.

Let’s start by looking more closely at the Pew study. Maybe the survey question wasn’t entirely fair. Think about it: how many of us were taught essential life skills, like reading and writing, by a teacher? Now, think about the fact that only one in five people has a legal issue each year.

Overall impressions

My criminal law professor liked to tell us that “everyone hates lawyers until they need one.” A recent Avvo study focused specifically on people who had experienced a legal issue in the past two years— people for whom lawyers are more relevant than the general public. Among these individuals, 61% described lawyers as necessary, 57% said lawyers were important, and 52% viewed lawyers as effective. Thirty-six percent said they had a positive impression of lawyers; 15% had a negative impression.

Overall impressions are better when we narrow our focus even further and hone in on people who have actually hired a lawyer 1sometime within the past 2 years. Fifty-five percent of individuals in this group have a positive impression of attorneys (34% have a neutral impression, and only 9% have a negative one). This suggests that if more people hired and worked with attorneys, more people might like them.

And, although attorneys generally carry the reputation of being too costly (see last blog entry in this series), 58% of those with recent legal issues believe good lawyers are worth every penny. In the words of one interviewee, “If you can find that five-star attorney…they’re worth the price.”

The challenge, of course, is finding that five-star attorney. The survey also revealed that potential clients don’t want this information to appear on a lawyer’s website; they want it listed on a third-party directory, like Avvo, or the information won’t seem as credible.

Benefits of bedside manner

And then there’s bedside manner. Our consumer data tells us that by simply returning emails and phone calls quickly, you can improve the chances of being liked—and hired. Hiring and training a polite support staff can also go far in building a positive 2impression. Your body language and tone (both in person and on the phone) can offset the bad rap you might get elsewhere. (See chart.)

So, you see, you’re not that bad. In fact, 30% of people with recent legal issues say you get a bad rap. But a question remains: though leaving a positive impression might make people choose you over another attorney, do overall impressions of lawyers matter in encouraging people to consider talking to a lawyer in the first place? You’ll get the answer to this next week . . .

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