Sunday, September 24, 2006

In Whom Do You Trust?

Do not trust all men, but trust men of worth; the former course is silly, the latter a mark of prudence. -- Democritus, Greek philosopher (460 BC - 370 BC)

Love all, trust a few. Do wrong to none. -- William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616), "All's Well That Ends Well", Act 1 Scene 1

Sometimes I think we're the only two lawyers in Washington who trust each other. -- Elizabeth Dole, U.S. lawyer & government official (b. 1936), as quoted in Newsweek magazine, p. 13 (August 3, 1987, speaking of her husband, Senator Robert Dole, who was also a lawyer).
In a Harris Poll, dated August 8, 2006, the polling organization asked: "Would you generally trust each of the following types of people to tell the truth, or not?" The Harris Poll® (No. 61) was conducted by telephone between July 7 & 10, 2006, by Harris Interactive® among a nationwide sample of 1,002 U.S. adults. The respondents were asked about 10-11 occupations each, on a rotating basis.

The results were noted in September, 2006, by LexisOne, in its online offering "Balancing Life & Practice" found online here.

The results are not flattering to lawyers.

Among the twenty-two subject occupations and professions, the most trusted are . . . doctors and teachers.

Who are the least trusted? Actors and lawyers are at bottom. We only beat them by just one percent. Stockbrokers and pollsters also faired poorly, but better than lawyers.
Twelve of the twenty-two professions measured by The Harris Poll® are trusted to be truthful by 60 percent or more of U.S. adults, with doctors (85%) and teachers (83%) topping the list. * * *

[T]hose rounding out the top five of generally trusted occupations and professions are scientists (77%), police officers (76%) and professors (75%).

Conversely, the five occupations that are least trusted to be truthful include actors (26%), lawyers (27%), stockbrokers (29%), trade union leaders (30%) and opinion pollsters (34%).
These are the actual results regarding judges and lawyers:
Judges —> 70% = Would Trust; 24% = Would Not Trust; 5% = Not Sure/No Answer.

Lawyers —> 27% = Would Trust; 68% = Would Not Trust; 5% = Not Sure/No Answer.
As to lawyers, the only good news is a slight increase since the last poll results (in 2002) in the percentage of U.S. adults who trust that we tell the truth. But that increase is only 3% to the positive. Judges did better -- up 5%. Stockbrokers and bankers did even better -- up 6% and 11%, respectively. But all of those professions were bested by the accountants' improvement (up 13%).

The ordinary man or woman carries an approval rating of 66%.

Why are lawyers not trusted as much as others? And why are lawyers, who become judges, raised to a trust level of 70% instead?

I suspect that it is because of built-in characteristics of our profession that require zealous advocacy and confidential representation of client interests.

I would be interested in the result of a further poll that would ask this question instead: "Would you generally trust each of the following lawyers in particular practice areas to tell the truth, or not?" I would hope that trust & estate lawyers would -- at least within our lawyer bracket -- rise to the top.

The poll report acknowledges that professional pollsters are upset by the results reflecting on them:
Even though many polls (at least in national elections) generally do an accurate job, a 54 to 34 percent majority of the U.S. adult public does not believe that pollsters generally tell the truth.

Obviously, the results are disturbing to those of us in the public opinion polling profession. This should be seen as a wake-up call to the pollsters that we must do more to educate the public about surveys and work more to earn the public’s trust.
Lawyers should be upset too. This should be seen by us, too, as a "wake-up call" for more public education about our work, and for more emphasis on teaching, practicing, and preaching trustworthiness.

The complete survey report, with comparision charts and rankings, can be found online here.