One of Shakespeare’s rather famous or infamous quotes is from Henry VI, where he says, “First, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
This oft-repeated joke reflects the general negative sentiment many people have toward lawyers, which is nothing short of being on par with the kind of unfriendliness displayed toward investment bankers. Some people hate lawyers until they need one. But more needs to occur to change the negative perceptions of lawyers and the work they do in society.
Legal professionals must see themselves first and foremost as servants of society. Service is about recognizing that we are all part of the human family and that treating each other with dignity and respect is the only key to human progress.
Unfortunately, the legal process in America is no longer geared towards noble concepts such as justice, fairness, or impartiality but rather financial power and connections. It’s sad that money—or the lack of it—has become the deciding factor in the American judicial system.
We could argue that the justice system has never been fair but has instead always operated on the concept of privilege. In the past, this privilege heavily depended on the concepts of gender and race, thus favoring white males. Today, however, it gears heavily toward financial power above all other metrics. Lady Justice is meant to be blind, but in the current system, it is clear that she seems to notice the color green.
Ways some people receive unjust treatment under the lawHere are some ways the judicial system systematically and unjustly treats poor people:
Staying in prison because they can’t afford bailThose accused but not yet convicted of a crime are imprisoned because they can’t afford to pay bail. It’s difficult for wealthy policymakers to imagine that some people are too poor to pay a few hundred or a couple of thousand dollars set as their bail. However, many Americans can’t afford this amount and have no choice but to stay in prison for weeks or months as they await their day in court. Imprisonment can lead to a loss of jobs and income and other problems that quickly cascade. So, some individuals are dealing with the burdens of a conviction, even though they have not pleaded or been found guilty by a jury.
Lack of access to legal servicesOn the civil side, sometimes individuals need assistance with family law matter, real estate transactions, or financial troubles. Still, due to a lack of access to legal services, the situation gets worse. Lawyers are well equipped to guide individuals facing these matters and intervening early before they lead to havoc in other areas of their lives.
BiasWe all have biases, but when we are in positions of power, those biases can have a tremendous impact on the lives of others. Lawyers, judges, and members of juries are examples of people who hold power over others and should work to uncover biases and not let mere assumptions get in the way of dispensing justice. Unfortunately, these biases can disproportionately impact poor people and minoritized communities, being imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.
How lawyers can be of serviceLawyers can serve humanity by using their skills, power, connections, and knowledge to help the disadvantaged and oppressed. Their work in service to humanity does not mean they can’t make money at all; it just means that they recognize that they have a social responsibility to the rest of humanity.
Here are ways to be of service:
Pro bono workPro bono is Latin and translates to for the public good. Lawyers wishing to engage in public good can offer their legal services for free to people who cannot afford a good lawyer but are in desperate need of justice.
The best cases to take on involve an individual who has experienced extreme damage to their health or financial well-being. An example would be a case where a factory has been using dangerous chemicals that harm the local community resulting in cancer or other medical conditions.
Students just out of law school can get some real-world experience by doing pro bono work that allows them to sharpen their skills in the real world. Law school tends to be too theoretical and needs to teach how cases in the real world evolve.
Financing scholarshipsMany lawyers are quite wealthy; this wealth is an opportunity to give back financially to causes that matter. Scholarships to law students from poor backgrounds are a great way to give back to the community.
Sharing knowledgeKnowledge is more valuable than money. Experienced lawyers can give back to the community by offering their knowledge and experience to junior associates and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less.”
Leadership is the most crucial factor determining whether a firm will survive or thrive. There is no substitute for good leadership, and any firm that aims to navigate the modern tough market conditions must ensure that the quality of its leadership goes above and beyond.
Leadership Starts With Vision
Leadership starts with a vision, which is the ability to understand where the firm currently is and to see where it could be in the future. A vision sets the tone of the environment in a firm and sets a goal that everyone can work towards. Without vision, people get caught up in their day-to-day milieu and can’t focus on grander objectives.
Learning to listen
Great leaders understand they should listen more than they speak. The ability to take time to hear other people’s views, perspectives, and even criticisms is an effective way to learn and grow. People are always happy to follow a leader when they believe their leader considers their views. Listening allows leaders to implement ideas that help build morale and efficiency in their subordinates.
To be a good listener, a leader should be:
Empathy is the ability to feel other people’s pain and place yourself in their shoes. Great leaders can understand things from other peoples’ points of view.
When subordinates feel judged for airing their views, they are less likely to feel free to offer their opinions again in the future. A leader should create an environment where everyone feels free to speak their mind without fear of repercussions.
Willing to change
A leader who listens but doesn’t implement any of the suggestions offered by subordinates only frustrates the people who offer up their ideas. There is no point in listening if the ideas offered are simply filed and put away.
Capable of offering undivided attention
When subordinates offer their views, they need to know that their voice matters. They will not be emotionally invested in the process if they feel that being asked their opinion is nothing more than a formality.
Seeing what is ahead of the curve
A leader should know how to read current circumstances and anticipate problems that are likely to emerge in the future and opportunities worth taking advantage of.
Like an oracle of old staring into their crystal ball, a leader needs to see what everyone else is missing and make changes to ensure that the firm survives. These changes can be financial headwinds, legislation changes, or client demand shifts. Seeing what’s coming is the only way to adapt to it in time.
Avoiding the temptation of micromanagement
A leader is like a conductor controlling an orchestra. Conductors sometimes get emotional and wish they could play the instruments themselves so that “things are done right,” but this is a fallacious idea.
A leader should maintain an overall strategic view of things and leave the smaller tactical decisions to those required to do their jobs. Micromanagement leads to resentment and eventually creates dysfunction in firms.
For a leader to feel comfortable enough to delegate responsibility, they need to know that they have the right people in place. This means that delegation must go hand in hand with great hiring skills.
Offering hope in dark times
Napoleon said that “A leader is a dealer in hope.” These words ring truer during those times when the clouds are dark, and the future is uncertain. According to some statistics, up to 92% of all law firms collapse. This is an incredibly high rate of collapse that leaves many lawyers who work for the surviving firms constantly in a state of angst and fear.
Fear can be crippling and can leave otherwise competent people unable to give their best. As a leader, it is necessary to offer people a sense of confidence and hope, especially during times of financial strain and difficulty.
At its basic level, access is the ability or opportunity to enter a particular space or communicate with a particular person. In law firms, the concept of access comes down to three primary components:
Employee access to information and opportunities
It’s difficult for lawyers to grow their skills and showcase their abilities if they lack the opportunity to do so in the first place. Many law firms often deny Junior associates trying to grow their reputations the opportunity to either take on new cases or work alongside more experienced lawyers, which keeps them from learning opportunities and the ability to shape their image.
At other times, junior associates may have the opportunities but lack the information and resources needed to do their jobs. This lack of support hinders their efficiency and ability. Lack of access to opportunities or information is a problem that disproportionately affects women, people of color, and LBGT community members.
Employee Access To Superiors
The ability to maintain an open door allows provides many tremendous benefits to organizations. As an equity partner or a managing partner, here are some of the benefits that come with an open-door policy:
#: It allows associates to air their grievances
When people are allowed to air their grievances, they are generally happier with their working environments and are less likely to leave their jobs. A high attrition rate at a law firm can end up costing the firm a lot of money because of the cost of retaining new hires.
#: Allows associates to offer their ideas
Great ideas can come from anyone in the firm, which is why offering different people an opportunity to share their thoughts allows for the assimilation of different points of view based on different circumstances.
#: Eliminates the feeling of an authoritarian environment
People are generally happier when they feel they have a say in their work and the kinds of cases they can take. An authoritarian environment that issues dictates from the top, expecting associates to follow orders like automatons, creates a toxic environment over time.
#: Builds trust, transparency, and open lines of communication
Firms with well-established open-door policies that do not punish employees for airing their views have more openness and trust between superiors and juniors. This allows these types of firms to be more flexible and versatile. They can better cope with unexpected challenges while also shifting with new trends and preferences.
Ease of access to legal services provided by firms
Access isn’t just an issue within the firm; it also has much to do with access from outside the firm. There are many people out in the world facing injustices every day. The only way to remedy these injustices is with the help of professional legal minds.
Unfortunately, access to legal services has gradually become a preserve of the rich and privileged in the country. We can help solve this problem by creating easier access to legal firms for all people.
Here are a couple of ways that firms can boost greater access to different communities
#: Opening offices in areas where they are needed most
Having corporate offices in the upper east side of New York means a law firm will attract only one type of client because the location alone intimidates many people.
Opening offices in places where legal services are most in need, such as the Harlem and the West Bronx, is the best way to create easier access for people who genuinely need legal advice to resolve the injustices in their lives.
#: Reaching out to people who need legal services
Many people have lost faith in the criminal justice system, and their cynicism means they will not bother walking into the offices of law firms that they see as part of the problem.
Unfortunately, the people who have lost complete faith in the legal system are the ones who need legal advice the most. Taking legal services directly to these people is a way to help build up their faith in the legal process again.
#: Community outreach programs aimed at teaching people about their rights
A lot of abuse by people in positions of power, such as the police or bosses, is because people don’t know their legal rights. If they understood their legal rights, they would be less likely to be taken advantage of or abused. Lawyers should create programs that teach the most vulnerable people how to protect their rights.
These posts were proofread by Grammarly
Joseline J. Hardrick is the Founder and President of Diversity Access Pipeline, Inc. She is also an author, professor, and lawyer and resides in Tampa Bay, Florida. Guest bloggers are students in the Journey to Esquire® Scholarship & Leadership Program.