Did you know that November 5 is National Love a Lawyer Day? Well, neither did I until recently while looking at a calendar of “national” something-or-other days. Love a Lawyer Day sure has not caught on so far. I think I know why.
In 2014, Princeton social scientists Fiskel and Dupree published a report showing the results of their poll measuring the perceived competence and warmth (friendliness and trustworthiness) of a number of occupations. Lawyers fell into the group of perceived high-competence, low-warmth professionals which also included chief executive officers, engineers, accountants, scientists, and researchers. Sadly, when you look at this grouping of these less-than-warm folks, lawyers were at the bottom.
A Gallup poll conducted in December 2015, asked participants to rate the honesty and ethics of a number of occupations. Lawyers finished in the bottom half, right below building contractors and bankers and just above real estate agents, labor union leaders and business executives. In this poll nurses finished at the top followed by pharmacists. At the bottom were lobbyists just below members of Congress, telemarketers and car salespeople.
So, when you consider that part of the warmth component in the Princeton study was also trustworthiness, it appears that the legal profession has a way to go until it is well trusted by the public. That’s troubling to me.
While some of the participants in the Princeton study and the Gallup poll may have been responding based on their experience with their own lawyers, I suspect that many people’s view of lawyers is influenced by TV shows featuring sleazy lawyers because it makes for better drama.
But let’s dig a little deeper into what leads someone to trust (or not) a lawyer. In a legal text titled, Psychology for Lawyers, authors Robbennolt and Stearnlight explain it this way, “Clients experience trust in their attorneys when they rely on the attorneys to act in ways that are consistent with the clients’ well-being; that is, acting with fidelity to their interests and acting competently in doing so.” Maintaining client confidentiality is an important way that lawyers act in their clients’ best interests. In addition lawyers are obligated to advocate for their clients by presenting facts and legal arguments in the light most favorable to their clients.
It is important to remember that hundreds of years of legal cases have shown that people often perceive facts or the “truth” very differently. The legal ethics of confidentiality and advocacy which guide attorneys likely have the effect of causing people on the other side of a dispute or negotiation to perceive the other lawyer as less trustworthy because the lawyer is advocating for the “other side.”
Lawyers are ethically forbidden from lying or urging their clients to lie. But, a lawyer’s role is not that of a journalist who is telling both sides of a story. A lawyer’s role is to make sure her client’s well-being is protected within the bounds of the law.
So, maybe if we celebrate lawyers at all we should change November 5th, to “Love Your Own Lawyer Day – the Other’s Guy’s Lawyer Not So Much.”