Heard any good lawyer jokes lately? Probably not, but perhaps you laughed anyway, just to show you’re a good sport? How did the word “lawyer” become synonymous with greed and negativity? Over time, how can lawyers avoid taking the public’s perception of what they are to heart? And what happens when they start to believe their own bad press?
If perception is reality, lawyers buying into the theory that you can’t be a good person and a good attorney at the same time are not helping the cause. But given the very public stigma often associated with their profession, maybe it’s not entirely their fault. So if lawyers change their own perceptions of themselves, can they change the way they are viewed by the world? Not with thoughts alone, of course, but what if they undertook dedicated actions intent on that mission?
Lawyers as a profession seem to lack a coherent view of their role in the world. Are they here to make the world a better place? Or is the purpose of lawyering simply to make a living? Moreover, the prevailing negative industry image can rob lawyers of a clear sense of purpose, leaving them overly focused on simply getting ahead and putting their attention on things like billable hours and the partner track at the expense of anything else.
But what if lawyers viewed themselves more the way doctors do? Just like doctors, lawyers are highly knowledgeable, skilled professionals whose first obligation is to help people. Lawyers provide as crucial a service, yet as a profession, they hardly enjoy the reverence and respect that doctors do. If every lawyer embraced the central mission of helping people–whether it was their clients, their colleagues or the world around them–how different would our perception of lawyers be?
So what actions can lawyers take to change how they are perceived, and how they perceive themselves? Pro bono work is one example of something that helps the public see lawyers in a more noble light. And the lawyers who offer pro bono services often feel a sense of satisfaction in this work that is lacking in their day jobs. What else could have this effect? What else could lawyers do to realize the nobility of their own profession and demonstrate it to others? Feel free to lend your thoughts to the discussion below.