Image: An Essential Ingredient for Lawyer Success During These Changing Times


by John W. Olmstead, Jr., MBA

Copyright 1996-97 by Olmstead & Associates. All Rights Reserved.

The concept of lawyer image is key to lawyer success and prosperity. Many of you have seen a shift from having a favorable reputation and image to becoming a profession that is fighting to improve its’ image. Lawyers image congers up a variety of meanings in our society today which in many cases leads to negative perceptions. To some it means buying justice for those who have the money to pay for a lawyer. To some it means that some lawyers can be bought for the right price. To others it means that some lawyers are only hired help. While to others it means that many lawyers charge on a minute by minute basis when being their client. Keep in mind these are sterotypic perceptions that are touted and reinforced by public opinion.

These perceptions can be changed if the public see lawyers in a different light. Some helpful images might include lawyers as team players, contributing volunteers services toward community efforts, providing many services for a fixed fee, practicing high ethical standards that exceed the expectations of the community, and being visible as a good community neighbor.

In their professional training lawyers are taught to work as independent professionals. They tend to use confrontational methods and encourage adversarial relationships. They work on a win-lose basis. They are not taught to access or understand other xD5s feelings or human concerns. Lawyers are taught a professional language which is rarely understood by the lay person. Finally, they are rarely taught to promote their personal and professional image, which could enhance their reputation in such a way as to generate respect, attract more business, and have them be more amicable in their community.

So where does this leave us? It means that public opinion of lawyers and realities of their practice are being questioned and assessed. It places the responsibility for change of these perceptions with the lawyers, law firms and law profession itself.

Here are a few facts to consider.

  1. Our society is changing rapidly.
  2. Technology provides us with instant information regarding legal questions and issues.
  3. There are more lawyers and consequently more competition, and sometimes lack of what they see, as professionalism that can lead to an improved image for lawyers.

A recent study conducted by the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association indicates that a high number of young lawyers are dissatisfied with the profession. Some major reasons given include: failure to set and communicate standards, poor mentoring, decline in collegiality, and poor communications.

You must ask, is it too late to change the image of lawyers and law? Where will the leadership come from to institute this change? How can you stop the lawyer bashing that is occurring? What are the corrective measures needed to improve lawyer image, reputation, trust, loyalty, and prosperity?

Professional Leadership is Essential

The solutions lie in the kind of leadership that will be developed to solve these problems. Leadership needs to focus on several points.

  1. vision to promote change that is needed to make lawyers seen as more respectable and trustworthy,
  2. action steps necessary to have other lawyers create real change (fee structure change with added value for the client, more visible community involvement, and improved professional identity),
  3. real, concrete results that clients can see when receiving professional services.

The leaders need to further expand on:

An example is having your law firm be involved with a community project, like the literacy of high school students. The law firm could be involved with the local school district and provide lawyers to go into the classroom as co-facilitators. They also could provide assistance with a School to Career effort by providing lawyers as speakers, mentors, or employers. The positive implications of this type of effort could be enormous for the community and the law profession. It would also have a permanent effect of building bridges between lawyer image and community respect.

What Do Your Clients Want From You as a Professional?

In the past clients would wait for you to return their phone calls. Clients would readily accept billable hours worked. They would hold lawyers in high esteem and as being helpful.

Today, clients are use to instant communications; bills based on the entire job and a variety of billing guidelines. Clients now expect and demand that lawyers understand and care about their personal and professional business matters. They expect reasonable fees. They want clear explanations of what is being done and what results can be expected. Clients need lawyers who can offer creative legal and business solutions to their problems by understanding and interpreting current laws.

Below are seven characteristics that lawyers will need during the next decade to be more successful.

  1. be service and client oriented.
  2. be proactive and not reactive in your approach to marketing for new business.
  3. have a reputation as trustworthy, honest and empathetic toward your clients.
  4. create real value for your client and become apart of the community in which you live.
  5. become proficient with computers and technology.
  6. learn to adjust your focus to include diversity in the workforce and client population.
  7. learn to use both task and process skills in your work.

How to Market Professional Services, Reputation, and Image

Marketing by lawyers and law firms is the one most essential ingredients to being successful and prosperous in the future. Marketing is not an option, it is a necessity. Everyone has a role to play in it. Marketing must be plan-driven and requires total accountability. Marketing is a process that includes not only clear direction, plans, and team work, but also brochures, press releases, and newsletters. It touches everyone in the firm and everyone in the community. It has to do with your reputation and images, the products you deliver, the fee you charge, and the manner in which you practice in your community.

So what is in an image? This might be best accomplished by asking you to rank the following professions according to best practices image: medicine, professional education, politics, religion, and law.


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