"Americans remain ambivalent about lawyers" - that's the conclusion of a recent ABA consumer study on lawyers' public image. But a new MBA initiative aims to change that attitude.
Most people have only a few opportunities to deal directly with an attorney - through the buying or selling of real estate, a divorce, setting up a business, drafting or settling a will, and so on. It is safe to say that the average person's "opinion" of lawyers is not based on those limited dealings but rather on the many unflattering depictions in the news and entertainment media of lawyers as crafty and cutthroat operators or in some kind of trouble.
To counteract these negative stereotypes, the MBA this month is launching a campaign to encourage citizens' direct, positive interaction with attorneys and to inform the public of the many community- and public-service efforts by lawyers throughout the state. The campaign, titled "Get Involved!," was endorsed by the MBA officers and House of Delegates last May.
"For years, we have expressed concern about the less-than-positive image of our profession," said MBA President Richard C. Van Nostrand. "In a concerted, grassroots way, the 'Get Involved!' campaign will spread the word both to the public about the good works done by Massachusetts lawyers and to our colleagues that it is up to us collectively and each one of us individually to help change that public mindset. As one of our new ads will say, A good deed isn't just a legal document.'"
The "Get Involved!" campaign will begin with a two-pronged approach.
In the first, the MBA Communications Department will work with the professional and general-interest news media throughout the state to publish or air stories about members who have contributed to the public or the profession in some meaningful way, such as volunteering on a community project or taking notable pro bono cases. Last year, more than 700 MBA members volunteered for one or more public-service programs. Coverage in the local media about these sorts of individual efforts of volunteerism or "giving back" can become powerful, grassroots examples for the public of the good work lawyers do. They also will let MBA members lead their colleagues by example to spur greater participation in the association's many volunteer activities.
The second approach is aimed directly at lawyers themselves, to remind them that they have valuable expertise that can be put to the service of the public. As past president Joseph P.J. Vrabel said in presenting the "Get Involved!" drive to the HOD last May, "Attorneys are their own best PR, because lawyers can only be seen as being as good as they actually are."
To begin the member outreach effort, the MBA's Public Service and Communications departments recently redesigned the Community-Service and Public-Service Opportunities Guide, which promotes the MBA's many volunteer programs, including the Elder Law, Mock Trial, Conversations, Speakers Bureau, Dial-a-Lawyer and Pro Bono programs. Now titled "Get Involved!," the pamphlet has a more appealing design and a refocused message of volunteerism and community service.
The distribution of this new pamphlet will coincide with a promotional campaign using print ads, e-mail, posters, fliers and articles in Lawyers Journal to encourage greater volunteerism among MBA members.
"The officers as a whole are committed to this effort," said Van Nostrand. "We encourage - and challenge - our fellow members of the bar to join the hundreds of MBA members who volunteered last year for Mock Trial, Conversations, Elder Law and our other public programs to 'Get Involved!'"