Why don’t people trust lawyers and does it really matter?

why don't people trust lawyers?I just read an interview of the authors of a new book, “The Trusted Advisor’s Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust.” In this sequel to, “The Trusted Advisor,” Charles Green and Andrea Howe present tools and exercises for helping lawyers earn the trust of their clients.

Clearly, this is an important subject. After all, clients hire attorneys they “know, like, and trust” and if your clients don’t trust you, or don’t trust you enough, there will either be a strain on your relationship or no relationship at all.

Matt Homman, who conducted the interview, asked the authors, “What questions were you expecting [in interviews] and haven’t yet been asked? How would you answer them?” Green said a question they haven’t been asked is, “Why don’t people trust lawyers? And is it a bum rap?”

Green said it’s not a bum rap, people generally don’t trust lawyers.

I agree. But then I started thinking about this issue of trust and wondered how important it really is. People don’t trust lawyers and yet they hire lawyers every day.

And then I thought that not trusting lawyers may actually be a good thing. For clients, lawyers, and everyone else.

For lawyers, living in a world where people generally don’t trust you gives you an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. You can show why you can be trusted and you don’t need to do a lot to accomplish this.

We need to show clients:

  1. We know what we’re doing,
  2. We’re not going to rip them off, and
  3. We’ll do our best to help them.

This is not difficult. Share some stories, look them in the eye, patiently answer all their questions, and you’re half way there. And if you were referred to the client, you’ve rounded third base and are headed for home.

Once you’re hired, show clients you know what you’re doing by doing it, don’t rip them off, and do your best to help them. Oh, and return their calls.

Be a mensch. People will trust you (and your mother will be proud).

Okay, this is overly simplified, but the truth is that earning trust isn’t extremely difficult, and it is actually made easier because of the pervasiveness of distrust. A little effort on your part will go a long way.

A general distrust of lawyers is also a good thing for clients. If people innately distrust lawyers, won’t they be inclined to ask more questions before hiring one?

It’s when people are too trusting that they get hurt. It’s when they don’t ask enough questions or seek enough assurances that they get into trouble. (I don’t think Bernie Madoff had a law degree but you get the point.)

And let’s not forget “the other guy’s” lawyer. Not trusting the other side’s counsel is almost always a good thing.

Okay, people don’t trust lawyers, this is a good thing for clients, and lawyers can stand out from the crowd and earn their clients’ trust without a lot of effort.

So, what’s the problem?

Now, if we can only do something about those damned lawyer jokes.

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Comments

  1. David,

    I somewhat agree with you, but there are a lot of holes in your argument here. Sure, if all lawyers are generally not trusted, it makes the trusted ones more desirable per the law of supply and demand. That’s wonderful as a marketing and advertising ploy for the lawyers that put effort towards becoming trusted.

    You imply that the following will garner trust:

    “This is not difficult. Share some stories, look them in the eye, patiently answer all their questions, and you’re half way there. And if you were referred to the client, you’ve rounded third base and are headed for home.”

    That’s half the story. The good con-men (and con-women) are the ones that look you in the eye, and share stories with you and have answers to all your concerns. In that sense, you are using trust as a gimmick.

    People trust each other for an array of reasons, but mostly trust acts as a filter. It is much easier to trust someone who shares your values and lifestyle. This creates a level of trust that stimulates different parts of your personality than trusting someone because they took the time to explain something to you.

    “Okay, people don’t trust lawyers, this is a good thing for clients, and lawyers can stand out from the crowd and earn their clients’ trust without a lot of effort. So, what’s the problem?”

    The problem is that those lawyers become trusted, but that does not make them trustWORTHY. And your article here further incites the backdrop of “those damned lawyer jokes.” You seem more concerned with utilizing trust to create billable hours vs. the cause of mistrust within the legal industry.

    And as a warning, yes, I work as a market strategist for lawyers. But at the same time our selection process for working with a law firm has been referred to as “arduous.” We’re serious about being trustworthy, and we won’t work at developing a trusting following for an organization that we feel doesn’t deserve it.

    There are too many people who require legal help who don’t have access. And to make things worse, the one’s who get past the financial roadblocks have to deal with the decision process that is over-flowing with advertising gimmicks.

    Sorry about the long reply. Maybe I should just write a rebuttal.

    • You’re right, Mohammad, gaining trust and being trustworthy aren’t the same things. My focus is on helping lawyers who are trustworthy convey this to a distrusting public. When untrustworthy lawyers use these techniques to gain trust, they make it harder for everyone. But that doesn’t mean honest lawyers shouldn’t use them.

  2. I must have the golden attorney. I trust my guy. People in the Golden Valley MN need a person they can trust. I like that I can tell my attorney anything and we can talk about all sorts of solutions. I can’t imagine getting a new one.

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