Lawyers, by and large, cop a fair battering from media. After all, media about lawyers ripping people off, betraying trust of their clients, acting irresponsibly, failing to pay their taxes, “chasing ambulances” or the like resonate, sadly, with a lot of the general populace.
It is disappointing to me that lawyers seem to have become more of an object of suspicion than admiration.
This was brought home to me a little while ago after an article by the Legal Services Commission lambasted lawyers generally for what is alleged to be systemic wrongful billing practices. The Queensland Law Society responded to that allegation with a restrained and factual piece about the relatively small number of complaints against the overall number of legal service providers.
I don’t propose to weigh in to that debate. What is clear, however, is that there is a perception in some circles that lawyers are greedy, selfish and arrogant. We have become in the eyes of many a mere necessary evil rather than a force for positive change. The truth of that is debatable, but the perception is probably not.
I propose, however, that we should and can be much more than a necessary evil. We should be trusted advisers, upright citizens and beyond reproach. Our interests should not be our own, but should be those which align with the discharge of our duties to the Court, to our Client and to the Law.
Arguing the point might come second nature to lawyers, but in my experience arguing a point has rarely convinced anyone of anything. Engagements like that LSC vs QLS that I have mentioned above might be necessary from time to time, but public perception of lawyers is unlikely to be altered in any meaningful way.
So how can we try and shift public perception? How can lawyers be seen to be a force for good, as trusted advisers and providers of expert assistance. I think it begins not with arguing, but with DOING.
Here are my starting suggestions, which are just a few of many possibilities – I welcome any more!
- Have integrity. Integrity has to be the mainstay of your practice. Integrity will put your self-interest behind the higher good. Integrity will not let you get involved in saving face, in finger pointing or in blame shifting – rather, integrity will ensure that you do what you say, and you take responsibility for your actions.
- Be amazing! OK – this could just be a blatant excuse to link another article of mine, but I actually believe it as well. Why aim for mediocre? Aim for Amazing!
- Be up front. A common concern about lawyers is that they are sneaky. As a lawyer you have a duty of candour and frankness to the Court. I encourage you to apply those concepts throughout your life and your entire practice.
- Be diligent. You’ve got a hard job, there’s no doubting it. Step up – take a deep breath – and make sure you do what you are there to do.
- Go above and beyond. Always be thinking about what MORE can I offer my client? What else can I do for the community? How can I step up and actively effect positive change in the world. How can I raise the standard for lawyers and for the community generally through my example?
- Stay humble and grateful. If you have been given the opportunity to study law, go to university and the capacity to practice law – then you have been blessed. You are entrusted with the wonderful task of helping people every day. What an awesome privilege!
Need more inspiration? What do Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln all have in common? You guessed it – all lawyers. Read their stories if you haven’t already, and see how they became the agents for change.
There is such a great opportunity for lawyers to contribute positively to society – not with a view to any gain of their own, but with a view for raising standards of behaviour around the world. We are educated, articulate and (in my experience) hard workers – put those talents to use! We should be a body of professionals that are beyond reproach, that people aspire to, and that we are proud to be involved in.
Is that one of your goals? If not – why not? If you are on board here, why not put the way YOU are going to raise the bar in the comments below!
Have a great day – go now and raise the bar!