Is the Legal Profession in Crisis?

John Shingleton

Director of Onlinelawyers

Crisis! What crisis?

This may well be the reaction of some lawyers on reading of the appalling claims of bullying and sexual harassment within the legal industry. However, for the rest of us, it was time our dirty little secrets were laid bare.

I, and a growing number of lawyers, have been concerned over the years with how our industry seems to have lost touch with progressions in society and modern businesses.

By this I mean we need to move away from the god-like hierarchical structures of partnerships; instead requiring law firms to be companies with a better focus on clients’ needs, rather than maximising profit and allowing, shock and horror, non-lawyers to be directors and shareholders of law firms.

I have witnessed bullying, manipulation, power trips and backstabbing like you would not believe.

Although I have not directly witnessed sexual harassment, I have no doubt it occurs in many workplaces.

As an industry we need to pull our heads out of the sand and confront how our industry operates.

Yes, I agree it is good to have someone independent review our industry, but unless we lawyers take ownership of our problems, there is a risk this will just end up in repetitive reviews and recommendations.

Taking ownership means we lawyers cease tolerating the bad behaviour of our peers, even if they are a “rain maker”, or an expert in their field with a great market profile. I believe we need to weed out psychopathic and sociopathic behaviour and either pull these in line, through peer pressure, or assist them with other career choices.

This is where you the consumer comes into play. You have the power to influence behaviour.

One of the biggest fears of lawyers is losing clients to their competition.

In my opinion, as a consumer you should ask your lawyer what their firm’s policy is regarding bullying and harassment in general. Ask your lawyer if he or she is happy in the firm. Ask whether any staff have complained of bullying or harassment. Speak to your friends and business contacts about their and your own experiences with certain lawyers and their firms.

I am of the firm belief that the more consumers ask such questions of their lawyers and discuss “bad” behaviour within the market, and if unhappy, take their business elsewhere, the more likely we will see changes in our industry.

So, is the legal profession in crisis? Well, yes, but it has a golden opportunity to clean up its act, with consumer assistance.

This article is the personal opinion of John Shingleton and does not necessarily reflect the views of others at Waimak Law.


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