9. April 2019

Relationship of trust with lawyers obsolescent?

The relationship of trust with one’s lawyer – often invoked and misunderstood. But precisely this relationship could provide the basis for a business strategy enabling a law firm to position itself successfully. After all, legal knowledge has been democratised by the internet and is not anymore enough for a law firm to demarcate itself sufficiently. Unless, of course, a lawyer wants to develop (back) into an expert in a special field.

Lawyers like to describe themselves as persons of trust or so-called trusted advisors. For this purpose, they refer to aspects like independence and professional secrecy. They expect customers to approach lawyers trustingly and to place their trust in them. But how can lawyers benefit from a relationship of trust, if at all?

Lawyers as a profession enjoy little trust. If we look at the surveys of what professions are trusted, firemen and doctors regularly come out on top. In an American study, assessing the level of trustworthiness, lawyers have even been ranked at the same level as prostitutes. In public perception, lawyers’ mindset is governed by a dominance of economic factors over professionalism. This is not exactly conducive to the establishment of a trusted relationship.

But why should we care? The examination of the relationship of trust with customers is important because particularly in times of technology and digitalisation and the concomitant decrease in personal relationships, the relationship of trust between individuals could be exploited as a competitive edge. Understood rightly, trust helps lawyers to attract customers and retain them. However, it is precisely this that is becoming ever more difficult: customers are setting up legal departments, lawyers are specialising, competition is becoming fiercer and the internet has distanced lawyers from customers.

Executive School Programmes:
Law & Management

Management for the Legal Profession

Business administration skills for lawyers subsequent to the EMBA

In such times, in particular, a return to a legal professionalism that takes its bearings from clients is gaining in importance. Legal work that is aligned with interactive cooperation characterised by trust provides lawyers with stronger tools to successfully demarcate themselves from competitors. This, however, requires additional efforts – i.e. more than just a client-attorney-privilege and independence. As a first step, I recommend lawyers to invest more in the flawless completion of service elements subjectively felt by clients.


If you are interested in this issue, you may want to read the detailed article about it, which will be published in German in the Anwaltsrevue shortly.


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About the author
Prof. Dr. Bruno Mascello Academic Director of the Executive School of Management, Technology and Law at the University of St.Gallen, Director of the executive programme for lawyers “Management for the Legal Profession (MLP-HSG)”, attorney at law, lecturer and author dealing with various topics at the intersection of law and management.