The legal profession in the United States has gotten a bad rap in recent years. All too often lawyers are the butt of jokes. They are the target of criticism every time some outrageous jury verdict is issued. (No one, of course, seems to criticize jury members — those 12 members of their peers who render silly decisions. No, it must be the fault of those damn lawyers!)
This is an unfair rap and one that belies the confidence that most business owners show in their legal advisers.
My experience in the business world is that despite occasional grumbles, most business people think lawyers have something important to contribute and follow their advice.
Don’t just take my word for it that business owners have confidence in their attorneys. A recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) found that small business owners in the United States rely on their lawyers for help — and generally seem satisfied with the help they get.
Selected conclusions from the survey, conducted in May – June of 2005, show positive support for the legal profession:
- Despite frequent policy disputes with parts of the legal profession, 69 percent of small business owners say that they have trust and confidence in lawyers and the legal profession compared to 31 percent who do not.
- Most small-business owners use lawyers in a given year. Sixty-five (65) percent of small employers (defined as employing 5 to 250 people) sought advice or other assistance from a lawyer in the last year. The figure for those seeking legal help rises to 78 percent when the reference period is the last three years.
- Median legal expenses, of those who incurred them in the last year, were between $4,000 and $5,000. However, 10 percent (6-7 percent of the population) incurred expenses of $25,000 or more. Legal costs in the last year appear to be atypically high.
- Seventy-eight (78) percent claim to have an on-going relationship with a lawyer or law firm. Those relationships appear reasonably stable over time. Just 13 percent changed their primary lawyer/law firm in the last three years. The most frequently cited reason for changing is the need for expertise followed by a lack of legal competence.
The main point that caught my eye is the number of those who have trust and confidence in lawyers — 69%. As a supporter of the legal profession, at first glance I was disappointed, because I would like to have seen that number at 79% or even 89%.
However, I did a quick comparison with another survey done by the American Bar Association. The American Bar Association study found that 58% of the general public (not just business owners) had some level of confidence in lawyers. So, it seems that business owners have higher confidence in lawyers than the general public.
Download the NFIB’s 2005 Use of Lawyers by small business survey results (PDF).
Go here for the American Bar Association’s study on Perceptions of the U.S Justice System.
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I think the biggest obstacle lawyers face is public perception. It is always the flamboyant, ambulance chasers that are in the media (think Geoffrey Fieger) and that what most people assume lawyers to be. It is a shame, because there are many hardworking lawyers out there.
Shirley George Frazier
Attorneys are a skeptical group, which makes sense for what they hear and face daily. That certainly accounts for the way they perceive things as compared to the small business community or any community.
I recently created an small business information CD with my attorney. We have a good relationship, but she was still legally bound to draft a contract before committing her advice to tape.
I think the “bad rap” is due, in part, to certain legal shows that are now part of our daily entertainment.