• Keith Wells

Outside-in thinking No. 3: "Who trusts ya, baby?"

Do lawyers and accountants rate higher than politicians and FIFA?

Recent conferences and industry press covering the ‘future of the law’ are reporting the need for a technical and DNA cultural change in lawyers and firms to:

- be more client-centric

- break down the barriers between lawyers and non-lawyers

- improve and leverage the 'power of trust'

- increase innovation, risk-taking and speed of change

There has also been a call for differentiation through more, future-focused, progressive thinking to:

- keep pace with the 'corporate world' (learning from winning, disruptive strategies and different business models - the 'uberisation' of the law)

- view the market from an external perspective - different people who can "think like clients"

The challenge summed up from a recent law firm leaders meeting - “(the debate is not) do successful law firms need to change… it is how rapid and radical does that change need to be”.

But is there a fundamental piece of the jigsaw missing?

Effective change requires a compelling story and that story has been written by clients. It has not been written by professional services firms, so it is understandable if clients don't trust the motivations to change. As one GC said to us, "I don't trust the b******s. They give it here, but take it back elsewhere. Why would they cannibalise their model?"

At another recent conference (#NWFutureFit) trust was described as "a priceless virtue".

The Charisma Index has researched how some of the generic professions ranked in terms of trust, against the best and the worst brands in the world. The findings do not make for pretty reading. The good news for lawyers and accountants is that when it comes to "who trusts ya baby" ("Totally" and "A lot") they are not at the very bottom of the rankings.

But the UK figures (we have consolidated results as well as market-specific for USA, Germany and Italy) are worrying.

Trust ("Totally" and "A lot") in accountants is at 23%. Lawyers do better, at 31%. Accountants do better on the all-market scores, while lawyers do worse. Both, though, perform better than Bankers, who achieve 15%, and Politicians, who make it to 4%. Given where we are with the other 'B' word, would anyone be surprised to hear that when it comes to "trust totally", politicians score a big fat 0%?

When it comes to not trusting ("At all" and "Not very much") accountants and lawyers hold similar positions with scores of 28% and 24%. Politicians hold their front-running position with a score of 77% people not trusting them, leaving Bankers way behind on 51%.

But before lawyers and accountants start patting themselves on the back, let’s put these numbers into context. Dammed with faint praise!

On a similar scale (it's marginally different in the survey) comparing the professional services numbers to the best and worst brands highlights big gaps. Trust in FIFA and the likes of scandal-riddled Oxfam record scores in the 40%+ bracket (that's 20% points higher) while the best brands like LEGO and John Lewis reach above 70% (40-50% points better).

So, what's to be learned?

Surely there is a big job to do to win back hearts and minds, before many of the other fads that firms are slavishly following, side track the ambitions to be a modern law firm. A lack of trust threatens to derail the investments firms are making in AI, tech, legal process improvements and in client relationships. We have said it before and say it again – there is a fundamental contradiction in the ambition of firms who say ‘we want to be your trusted advisers’ and follow it up with ‘look how much money we make from you’.

Clients need to trust motives first, then they are more likely to join the party and collaborate. A tech solution doesn’t win the trust needed for a better client/law firm relationship. It’s the other way around.


The Charisma Index 2019