The general consensus is that members of the legal profession are not to be trusted.
Too many popular depictions of lawyers in the media and in the news — tales of greed and deceit — have contributed to this false image.
In reality, the legal profession runs on trustworthiness and genuine desire to protect the public’s interests.
Becca Brennan, a law student from Toronto currently studying for the Ontario bar exams, explains how trustworthiness is the core principle of the legal community.
Brennan also touches on some ways that legal professionals can enhance their perception of trust in the public eye.
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How Trust Affects Our Lives
According to the World Happiness Report 2020, trust and happiness are correlated. Individuals who reported high levels of trust in society and institutions were happier than those who reported a sense of distrust in the system..
The benefits of an elevated sense of trust were greatest for those living in adverse conditions, including people with ill health, low incomes, unsafe neighborhoods, and people experiencing unemployment.
In order to foster an atmosphere of trust, society’s institutions need to cooperate in striving for the greater good; make decisions and undertake initiatives with the public interest at the forefront.
Trust in the Legal Profession
According to the Federation of Law Society’s Model Code of Professional Conduct, the principal purpose of rules guiding Canadian lawyers’ conduct is to protect the public’s interest.
When a lawyer’s conduct is questioned, the main considerations in assessing behavior and considering discipline is the maintenance of the profession’s integrity and public perception of the legal profession and the administration of justice.
While never explicitly mentioned in the Code, the notion of trust is inherent.
The duty to be honest and candid; the duties of competence and quality of work; the rules on confidentiality and conflict of interests.
They are all there to ensure the lawyer-client relationship is one built on trust.
Respect Versus Trust
While lawyers are respected as authorities and professionals, the public as a whole does not trust them.
According to a Princeton University study, lawyers are among the least trusted professionals.
This lack of trust impairs the entire profession’s credibility and the perception of the individual lawyers’ competence.
Though lawyers have high-status and envied positions in society, many people avoid dealing with them unless it is absolutely necessary.
This is unfortunate because when lawyers step in at earlier signs of trouble, they can save time and effort compared to entering a case at a later date.
Credibility and Warmth
Credibility on a communicator’s part depends not only on perceived competence but also on warmth and trustworthiness.
If lawyers want to improve their public image, they need to convince the public of their trust before even being approached by the client.
The following are recommendations on how to establish trustworthiness to become better members of the community.
Recommendations for Enhancing Trustworthiness
The act of looking for legal representation is a vulnerable position for many potential clients.
People look for lawyers when they are experiencing extreme difficulties in their lives, such as a divorce, a child custody issue, or a motor vehicle accident.
Transparency and Trustworthiness
Trustworthiness needs to be established right away in the early stages of the search.
Law offices should establish transparency in the terms of their credentials, their competence in a particular area, the processes they use to get results, and their pricing models.
Law offices should have comprehensive and easy-to-use websites that have all of this information laid out in a simple format.
Lawyers can also offer phone support or live chat to potential clients who are confused about something on the website.
Devote Time to Clients
During an engagement, it is a good idea to devote as much time to social interactions with the clients as to the actual work at hand.
Attorneys should communicate constantly with their clients through their preferred form of contact, whether that is by phone or email.
Regular Progress Updates
Law offices should always provide regular progress updates as well as asking about potential concerns and clarifying any billing issues that may arise.
Establishing Trustworthiness in the Workplace
In order to establish a sense of trustworthiness, it is a good idea to let workers control how they perform their job.
Flexibility is a great benefit, both in terms of when and where employees work and in the ability to work at home.
When people’s individual needs are respected, they can perform at their best and will feel like they are trusted by their employers.
Trust Between Co-workers
When there is a breakdown in trust between co-workers at the same firm, this can be a disaster where productivity is concerned.
Make sure that all staff members resolve their interpersonal issues, and if you have a staff person who is a continual source of trouble in the office, it may be time to let them go.
Painful decisions like this can lead to better relations with your clients and by extension, with the community at large.
Across the board, law firms should have a culture of accountability.
Some firms are notorious for letting senior partners get away with behavior that would not be tolerated in lower-level attorneys and support staff.
Even the highest-ranking members of the firm need to understand that they will be held to the same high standards as everyone else who works for them.
Senior members should be encouraged to acknowledge their errors, openly communicating the challenges and successes they have faced.
This practice creates a space for honesty and open discussion, encouraging trust throughout the firm.
Understanding Trust in the Workplace
Becca Brennan believes that law firms can be examples of trustworthy behavior and that this accountability will reflect well on the firm as well as on the outcomes of the clients’ cases.
She encourages all law firms to take a look at their workplace culture and make sure that their inner values are reflecting their public image.