While lawyers have enjoyed the high esteem of community members in the distant past, that glow has almost completely faded. In a couple of recent surveys, the depths to which we have sunk have become pretty clear. One survey of those workers “least trusted” by the public placed lawyers at #5, only squeaking ahead of members of congress and car salesmen who are tied at the least trusted, then advertisers at #3, and business execs at #4, with judges at #10, a further blow to the profession.
Another assessment of how people are thinking about lawyers these days is a list of the “most hated professions,” based on the volume of negative tweets registered over a period of time. Lawyers aced this one, coming in at #1.
These not-very-scientific surveys are reminiscent of the sentiment that an ABA poll documented almost 30 years ago: the more a person knows about the legal profession and the more he/she/they are in direct personal contact with lawyers, the less they like them, a sentiment expressed by not only criminal clients.
What could account for such vehemence towards us on the part of the people on whom we rely for our daily bread?
In one study of doctor interactions with patients, psychologist Nalini Ambady found that patients who were harmed were motivated to sue not because of the doctor’s advice that they were given but because of the way it was given, which they experienced as lacking warmth and being hostile and dominant, a combination that is known to many psychologists as “arrogance.” She found those qualities alone predicted which surgeons got sued and which ones didn’t. Lawyers too often score very high on arrogance.
Mentioned in one article reviewing a long list of studies finding lawyers sinking to the bottom of whatever index you’re interested in, Princeton University rated lawyers on par with doctors, scientists, and professors as far as their “competence,” but on approximately the same level as prostitutes on the scale of “warmth”–“below literally every other profession listed, including truck drivers, politicians, taxi drivers, construction workers, garbage collectors.” Not a good look, by anyone’s view.
That conclusion jibes with what David Maister, the venerable professional services guru had to say about client relationships: “Stated bluntly, professionals say that they want the benefits of romance, yet they still act in ways that suggest that what they are really interested in is a one-night stand.”
So what’s to be done?
Here’s Maister’s still-valid advice:
“The difference between transactions and relationships is similar to the distinction between being an expert to one’s client versus being an advisor.
An expert’s job is to be right—to solve the client’s problems through the application of technical and professional skill. In order to do this, the expert takes responsibility for the work away from the client and acts as if he or she is ‘in charge’ until the project is done.
The advisor behaves differently. Rather than being in the right, the advisor’s job is to be helpful, providing guidance, input, and counseling to the client’s own thought and decision-making processes. The client retains control and responsibility at all times; the advisor’s role is subordinate to this, not that of a prime mover.
Viewed this way, it is easy to see why many professionals, while they may pretend to the virtues of being their client’s advisor, actually do not want to be one. They do not want to advise; they want to take charge.”
Wanting to “take charge” is consistent, I might add, with being dominant and arrogant.
A lawyer who is “right” is not that hard to find these days. Evidently one who wants to establish a relationship as an advisor to his/her/their client is.