Does Law have an image problem?

Posted in Latest News on 25 Jun 2024

Lawyers traditionally have an image of glamour, prestige and status – but a recent poll shows that the public might not agree with tradition anymore.   

Recent polling by the International Law Association has shown that only 54% of the global population has a positive impression of lawyers and believes they have a positive impact on the world around them. While 54% might be seen as impressive by some, it means that 46% of respondents either believed it had no impact or, worse, that impact was negative. So, here at Douglas Scott, we wanted to look at why this might be the case.   

Of the 46% that didn’t have a wholly positive impression, 33% had a neutral or no impression, while 12% actively had a negative impression of the industry. Looking at the figures by region, 46% of European respondents had a positive impression of lawyers, while the number dropped to 41% for American respondents. Some of these numbers may surprise lawyers, who, when surveyed as part of this poll, overwhelmingly felt their work was having a positive impact, (the total was 78% overall), and only 8% had a negative impression of their work. It seems, therefore, that there is a disparity between the two impressions, which one supposes is to be expected. The report highlights this gap, saying there is room for improvement in increasing public appreciation of the sector, which it highlights has been damaged by negative press stories and stereotypes in public culture. After all, two of the biggest TV shows on both sides of the Atlantic in the last ten years, Better Call Saul and Suits, have centred around lawyers not being perhaps the most moral in society, and the report believes that these negative stereotypes are affecting the view of those surveyed.   

However, the report did highlight some positives that the sector can be proud of. The report estimated that nearly 12 million lawyers are employed globally, with 4 million employed as paralegals, 4 million operational staff and 14 million jobs surrounding the sector, which is a huge sign of just how popular a career in law is. The legal industry also contributes a sizable $1.6 trillion to global GDP, with the majority coming from legal service revenues, tax contributions, and administration and broader economic systems. There are also some great stats around countries with a strong rule of law and a healthy legal industry: those that do have a higher life expectancy of about 13 years, the statistics of girls completing secondary education goes up by 30%, greater protection of LGBTQI+ people and other minority groups and even 53% less pollution. However, this positive work could be undone if the rule of law declines further. The report found that this erosion had already started in 60% of those surveyed. Having the rule of law eroded should be a key concern for everyone, and it is a danger that, the report says, must be challenged.   

So, it is very much a tale of two halves. While the legal sector does have some image issues, and we have talked before about gender, ethnic and LGBTQI+ representation needing to improve, there are some positives to be drawn out of this report. Law and lawyers play a hugely important role in society, and the sector needs to remember to remind people of these links to prevent the dangers the report highlights could happen. 

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