At the recent Colorado Bar Association Board of Governors meeting, the image of attorneys was one topic of discussion. You’ll remember "image" is one of the top three concerns of Colorado lawyers, according to our recent member poll.1 Susan Fisher and Bob Hill have been heading the bar’s current effort to see what we should do in that area. Susan gave a short talk at the meeting, explaining that we’ve decided not to form a committee because we believe "image" is an individual problem and that every lawyer in the state has to take responsibility for improving both the image and the delivery of legal services to the public.
Bob, Susan, and Diane will be asking for invitations to visit committees, sections, and local bars to talk about image—both the problems indicated by various surveys and various possible solutions (some from last summer’s Board of Governor’s meeting). We hope everyone will take a piece of the problem and work on some changes.
The Latest Survey
The Denver and Colorado Bar Associations did a survey ten years ago, which gave us valuable information. We decided to do a less comprehensive survey, in the Denver metro area, to get updated information.
Four hundred people were interviewed by phone during December. Here are the four questions asked, with the results.
• Have you ever hired a lawyer or been involved with the legal system?
Result: 253, yes; 147, no.
• Would you rehire that lawyer?
Result: Of the 253 who had been involved in the legal system, 185 said they would rehire their lawyer; 68 said they would not.
• When you hear the word "lawyer," what are the first words you think of to describe him or her?
Result: As you can imagine, the responses were varied. The answers seemed to fall into four categories: positive, negative, "money," and "I don’t know." We got 140 positive answers, and they sounded like this:
someone to help you, protection, security, fine people, professional, smart, competent, thank goodness we have them, honest, helpful, he’s a friend, he’s my brother-in-law, considerate, my daughter is a lawyer, help the less fortunate, aggressive and well-read, advocate, intelligent, hard workers.
We got 117 negative answers:
sleazy, liar, jerks, developmentally stuck, aggressive, arrogant, necessary evil, moral ambiguity, intimidating, distrust, stuffy, self-centered, cunning, greedy, unscrupulous, and, our favorite, "I don’t want to get into that."
The number of people who just answered "money" to that question was 85. The same number said, "I don’t know."
• If you needed to use a lawyer in the past and didn’t, what stopped you?
Result: 208 said they hadn’t had to use a lawyer. Of the 192 who answered the question, 117 said the money or the cost stopped them (that’s about 60 percent; in our previous survey, it was about 55 percent).
To give a little more perspective, here’s some results from a national survey. Consumer Reports Magazine asked 30,000 readers about lawyers and the legal system.
They found that people involved in different kinds of legal cases tend to judge their lawyers differently.
Those involved in cases for which there was no opposing side (tax planning, wills, adoption) were generally happy with their lawyers’ performance. But those involved in adversarial situations (divorce, personal injury cases) expressed a great deal of frustration and dissatisfaction with their lawyers.
Of those with adversarial cases, at least 35 percent thought their lawyers had charged unreasonable fees or had failed to protect their rights and financial interests, to keep them informed, or to expedite the case.
At least 20 percent of the people involved in a variety of matters—criminal, divorce or child custody, workers’ compensation, defective products, or personal injury—claimed their lawyers didn’t return phone calls promptly or paid too little attention to the cases.
One conclusion to draw is that while you can’t control the outcome of the case, you can return phone calls quickly, be clear about fees, and keep clients up to date on what’s happening with their case.
1. See Hartman, "Results of the CBA Planning Process: Addressing Members’ Concerns," 26 The Colorado Lawyer 27, 28 (Jan. 1997).