Only half the public think lawyers have positive impact on society

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By Rhys Duncan on


Negative stereotypes and press coverage partly to blame

Only half of the general public think that lawyers have a positive social and economic impact, a new report has found.

The International Bar Association found that only 54% of the global public believe lawyers have a positive impact, while a little over third think the profession has no impact or are unsure, and 12% say the impact is negative.

In Europe, 46% of people think that the legal profession has a positive impact, whilst in North America this number was only 41%.

This contrasts with the 78% of global legal professionals who believe their work and role is positive, and only 8% who think it is negative. This “perception gap”, the report says, shows that there is “room for improvement in terms of how lawyers communicate the connections between their profession and economic activities to make the general population more aware of it.”

The different perceptions, the report adds, are often because of negative stereotypes in popular culture, negative press stories, and legal fees being perceived as inappropriate.

Elsewhere, the report notes that the profession employs 12 million lawyers, about four million paralegals and four million operational and administrative staff globally. This is alongside 14 million other jobs in the supplier sector such as notaries and translators.

This all contributes towards adding a sizeable $1.6 trillion (£1.25 trillion) to global GDP, equal to 1.7% of total GDP. Of this, $787 billion (£616 billion) comes from legal service revenues, $191 billion (£149 billion) tax contributions, and $637 billion (£498 billion) of ‘ecosystem effects’ in services such as administration and broader economic systems.

The report also noted that countries with a strong rule of law see: life expectancy increased by 13 years, 30% more girls completing secondary education, 53% less pollution, ewer youths not engaging in education, employment, or training, and greater protection of minorities including LGBTQI+ communities.

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These benefits risk being eroded away, however, with the rule of law declining in almost 60% of the 140 jurisdictions reviewed, the report adds.

Commenting on the findings, Almudena Arpón de Mendívil, president of the IBA, said:

“This landmark study demonstrates, for the first time, in a comprehensive manner, the true contribution of the legal profession through its sustaining of the Rule of Law. It shows how effective legal systems, supported by robust and independent legal professionals, can limit the overreach of governments, whilst also supporting economic growth, promoting innovation and education, and combating inequality. But the Rule of Law is under threat in many parts of the world, including through subtle attrition in many countries with democratic governments.”

“Our profession should take more action to educate the public about the Rule of Law, increasing awareness of its importance and its significant benefits, as well as denouncing examples of lawlessness. The world’s legal profession makes a clear financial contribution to global GDP, worth $1.6 trillion a year. We must now match that economic impact with increased ambition to enhance access to legal representation, engage in advocacy, strengthen access to education and legal literacy, and to promote the highest standards of professional conduct.”


Works on contingency? No, money down!

“Can you imagine a world without lawyers?”

*Cuts to people across the world holding hands and singing together*


I must be in the 8%. I know my contribution is completely negative. I am a parasitic leach feeding on society. But that’s the job. Given the ridiculous tax rates in the UK, my income tax contribution is what can make the world a better place.

honest person

probably not the best person to admit this as someone ingrained in the profession but yeah, helping rich people dodge taxes and acquire companies to form monopolies is definitely a net drain on society.

Just Anonymous

As always, the truth is nuanced and depend on the precise facts.

To take a purely hypothetical scenario.

When lawyers dishonestly ignore evidence so as to permit their lay client to evade its duties of disclosure as a prosecutor, then they are having a negative impact on society.

When lawyers valiently fight for skint little people against a well funded, intransigent and completely dishonest organisation, which has oppressed them for years, thereby causing such dishonesty to be exposed, then they are having a positive impact on society.

When lawyers valiently fight for the same dishonest organisation – but do so ethically and in accordance with their professional duties – with the result that the organisation loses in a fair trial which we can all have confidence in, then they are also having a positive impact on society.

Kirkland NQ

I have a very positive impact on my Lambo dealer’s bank balance.

Adult Human

Childish comment.

Not Childish

Who are you calling childish, Poopoo Face?

Kirkland NQ

Obviously a Ferrari dealer.


Poopoo car!


Not really sure what this ‘perception gap’ is supposed to say. Of course most lawyers think they make a positive impact. I think most people think they do, whatever their job is.

Fung of Counsel

Stereotypes are terrible.

I’ve been asked before if I have to wear my wig and gown on the train on my way to Court and whether I get “funny looks on the tube”.

I felt like responding “How many people have you seen on the tube wearing a wig and gown, arse?” when I thought that confronting the individual may diminish our public appeal further.

I just smiled sweetly and said “no”.

Robert Lord Fudge of Moncrieth

Pics or it didn’t happen!


How many of these people have come into direct contact with lawyers (either at work on within a relationship) who have treated them terribly?

How many times on here do we read about sexual harassment, bullying and a lack of diversity in the profession???

A modicum of personal accountability is a powerful thing.

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