What people really think of lawyers

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A survey into the public’s perception of the industry has unearthed some surprising results.

While the report by the Law Society of NSW found that law is a highly respected profession, around 54 percent of members of the general public surveyed said that the legal profession does not provide good value for money.

Michael Tidball, CEO of the Law Society of NSW, said that while there is some work to do around the perception of lawyers, the majority of people see the legal profession in a positive light, but view the legal system a little more negatively. He explained that the figures demonstrate a lack of understanding around the difference between the legal profession and the legal system. 

“People read about unpopular decisions of the court or of justice outcomes which may be out of kilter with populist opinion and the legal system in that sense can be the subject of very negative perceptions,” said Tidball.  “When it comes to lawyers, what this research tells us is that lawyers are seen as skilled experts who can navigate ones way through the legal system.”

Aside from the perception that the legal profession is overpriced, the survey found that 31 percent of survey respondents believe there is not enough regulation and oversight of the legal profession and 31 percent said that they do not have trust in the legal profession. 

It is not all bad news for the profession. While 16 percent of respondents had a negative view of solicitors generally, this number fell to 8 percent when the practitioner in question was their local or usual solicitor.

 “The industry has some work to do around the framing of lawyers, explaining that you don’t see people complaining about paying for the knowledge of doctors that you do in the legal profession,” Tidball said.

He said that while lawyers can take comfort in the perception that they are highly trusted and respected in the community, Tidball said the profession needs to better educate the public.

“In the areas of perceived negativity such as costs, we need to focus on explaining those things to the community, but we do that in the knowledge that the community does value the work of the profession,” he said.  “I think what we need to do is narrow the focus and in the few areas that are negative; we need to do a better job at explaining the legal system to the community.”

Tidball said the Law Society will use the information for the development of future communications strategies, and added, “we don’t need to apologise any more for the legal profession.  We don’t need to be defensive.  We have won the credibility debate”.