Yesterday, on behalf of its 18,000-strong members, the Ontario Bar Association launched what may very well be an industry first: a public relations campaign designed to convince people that the oft-maligned legal profession is, in fact, overwhelmingly made up of skilled, honest, caring and hard working men and women who are often asked to help good people go through some of their worst days.
The public relations campaign, which has been in development for two years, will include radio spots, posters, and print media. It will also feature an interesting social media component, where lawyers will be allowed to tell their personal stories that, in all likelihood, won’t conjure up scenes from a John Grisham legal thriller, but instead capture the raw, emotional, behind-the-scenes reality that most people don’t know – and, for certain, the ubiquitous lawyer jokes fail to capture (“Why won’t sharks attack lawyers? Professional courtesy.”)
Lawyers will also be encouraged to share what inspired them to attend law school, and what motivates them to persist in a field that typically has far more thankless days than gratifying ones.
As for the roots of why so many folks harbor what can loosely be thought of as a “notable disdain” for lawyers (that is, of course, until they desperately need one), Ontario Bar Association president Morris Chochla thinks it has much to do with the fact that lawyers are unfairly portrayed in the media as being the driving force behind their clients’ conflicts.
“In an adversarial situation involving family law, criminal law or civil litigation, you have a client and his lawyer on one side, and the other client with his lawyer on the other side,” Mr. Chochla said in an interview with the Globe and Mail. “That is what ends up in the press and on the radio.”
That’s an embedded misperception that former OBA president Paul Sweeney believes is also preventing the general public from seeing the significant social and community contributions that lawyers make, and how they spend most of their time solving problems and putting out fires – not lighting and pouring gas on them.
“We are trained to think critically about issues; to argue appropriately; to advocate on behalf of a position,” Mr. Sweeney shared with the Globe and Mail. “Those are skills we value. Words are what we use.”
As for metrics and results, the brain trust behind the Association’s public relations campaign is aware that it’s going to take time for opinions to change.
“We knew this couldn’t be done overnight,” the campaign’s creative director Brian Howlett noted. “We aren’t launching a new flavour of Coca-Cola, where people decide in a week if they are going to like it. We are working toward an attitudinal shift.”
Ultimately, Howlett noted, success will be determined by public surveys before and after the campaign.
(And perhaps, anecdotally, by a reduction in the number of lawyer jokes.)
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