Legal image suffers at expense of self-interest

The Lawyer will no doubt be accused of lawyer-bashing yet again this week because of the damning report on the lack of pro bono work carried out by the profession (pages 12-14).

No one wants to confront the truth, but the facts speak for themselves. The Lawyer's survey of the profession's commitment to working on a no-fee basis confirms what many have suspected all along – that a lot of firms have talked a good game, but are failing to deliver.

The only reason the Lord Chancellor's Department has been so successful in whipping up media frenzy about fat cat lawyers (see lobbying feature, page 22) is that, unfortunately, a lot of it is true. The profession has allowed itself to become a target. Lawyers have failed to give the impression that they make a positive contribution to society.

It is a sad indictment that, for all of the warm words the big firms put forth about pro bono work, the genuine demand for a tangible and factual commitment to pro bono comes from clients like British Aerospace.

We frequently write about US firms offering enormous salaries to British lawyers and about how such rampant materialism is very un-British. But what we often omit to mention is that the Americans have a heightened awareness of the necessity of combining such materialism with a genuine commitment to improving society. They learned long ago that narrow self-interest is not only bad for society, it is bad for business as well. At the moment, City firms are in danger of taking the worst elements of the US system and ignoring the best.

The Labour Government's success in attacking certain sections of the profession is only the tip of the iceberg, other threats are looming.

Ignoring the truth only creates greater problems in the long term. The profession must start to take immediate steps to remedy this situation before it is too late.

As for our defence against accusations of lawyer-bashing, it is simple and uncompromising. The Lawyer is concerned with the image and the future of the profession – that very public image of the profession will not improve as long as constructive criticism of it continues to go unheeded.