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Only 19 percent of Americans are “extremely” or “very” confident in lawyers and the legal profession, say the results of an American Bar Association consumer survey released on April 26. Participants in the survey saw lawyers as greedy, manipulative and corrupt and blamed the profession for failing to police itself adequately. Those with personal experience emphasized excessive fees that were not clearly explained upfront, lengthy delays and poor communications. The findings are based on an April 2001 survey of 450 households; focus groups held in the summer of 2001 in five cities (Birmingham, Ala., Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles); and a January 2002 survey of 300 households. The ABA sought views on 10 institutions, including the judiciary, the justice system, Congress, the executive branch, the medical profession and the media. Only the media, at 16 percent, were rated lower than the legal profession. Concomitantly, participants said the legal profession suffers from negative media portrayals and lack of information about lawyers’ pro bono and public-service activities. Only 34 percent thought lawyers deserved their poor image. The study found that the general lack of confidence in lawyers made people less likely to turn to them. Of the 71 percent who cited an event in the prior year that could have caused them to seek a lawyer — such as a home purchase, a car accident, credit problems or estate needs — only 45 percent had hired or planned to hire one. On the plus side, of those who had hired lawyers, 58 percent were very satisfied and only 12 percent were dissatisfied to some degree. The figures, compared with a 1998 ABA study, also show a negative impact on the image of courts, the judiciary, the judicial system in general and especially the U.S. Supreme Court, in the wake of the 2000 presidential election. The Supreme Court’s approval rating fell from 50 percent in 1998 to 32 percent in the summer of 2001. Every institution in the survey except the Supreme Court has at least recovered its 1998 level of trust, with most a bit above that figure. Congress is just above lawyers, with 22 percent. Doctors are rated highest, at 50 percent, with the executive branch and the U.S. Supreme Court tied for second, at 46 percent. Lawyers, at least, did not lose ground after the 2000 election but held steady at 14 percent. And since Sept. 11, the profession has enjoyed a nearly 36 percent rise in public confidence.

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