Unconscious bias about lawyers

What do you think, if you see a lawyer applying for a non-legal role? Do you make assumptions about a lawyer’s skill-set? And are these positive or negative assumptions?

IP Draughts would be interested to know your views. At a time when more of us are receiving training to avoid unconscious bias, and to be more inclusive and diverse, so that we don’t just recruit people in our own image, and when the law prohibits bias based on gender, race, disability or age, is discrimination against lawyers the last-remaining, permitted prejudice in the workplace?

IP Draughts can almost hear the jokey, sarcastic responses. In the popular discourse, lawyers don’t attract sympathy, because they are perceived as being successful, and too-clever-by-half. Tall poppy syndrome demands that they are brought down to size.

But this doesn’t stop the same people who make these comments encouraging their children to do law degrees, or being grateful when they receive expert legal advice.

Somewhere between these two extremes of negativity and positivity, are some assumptions about the contributions that lawyers bring to business life. The job that many commercial lawyers are asked to do, is to identify, point out and help manage business risks, particularly those that may have been missed by their more enthusiastic, “let’s just get the deal done” colleagues.

The traditional lawyer culture emphasises independence and integrity over being a team player. They are also often asked to act as “bad cop” in negotiations, leaving their business colleagues to play Mr Nice. The cumulative effect of these roles and attitudes can be to leave the less thoughtful of their colleagues with unfavourable opinions of lawyers.

IP Draughts is not looking for sympathy. This goes with the territory, and a good lawyer can help to mitigate, if not overcome, the prejudices of their colleagues through a combination of excellent service and a solutions-focussed approach.

All of which is a long-winded introduction to what IP Draughts really wants to discuss today. Since retiring from being chair of the IP Law Committee, he has been applying for other, part-time chairing roles. Recently he has received feedback on two of these applications in quick succession. In both cases, he was told that the appointing committee had decided that they didn’t want a lawyer for the role.

Why the h*** not? is IP Draughts’ first reaction. What is disqualifying about being a lawyer? His second thought is to wonder whether this is a gentle way of saying they didn’t want this particular lawyer. And his third thought is to revamp his CV to help the reader see why his varied experiences are relevant to non-legal chairing roles. If you would like to see this new CV, please let IP Draughts know.

But the question remains: do you have negative or positive views of lawyers in general when it comes to applications for non-legal roles? It is a while since this blog conducted a survey, so here goes:


Filed under Legal practice

3 responses to “Unconscious bias about lawyers

  1. I agree. On the results, I suspect many responders to the poll may be either fair or lawyers (or both). What surprises and frustrates me is the feedback that I received from two people recently that a conscious decision was taken not to appoint a lawyer.

    • I am a patent attorney, not a lawyer as such, but more a mechanical engineer who has training in a very specific area of the law (namely Intellectual Property). Having worked for over 15 yrs for a very large US manufacturing company – where money for IP/litigation was not a major concern (I now realise) – in 2014, I set up my own tiny IP company and now my clients are mainly first time inventors for whom IP/litigation costs are a major factor and I too have clients, who question whether they really need to always appoint a professional IP attorney and/or a lawyer for certain matters. Their main concern is often the seemingly exorbitant costs, which seem to escalate out of control and they simply do not know what to expect. Whilst many IP attorneys/lawyers do offer fixed prices for their work, there is often a lack of communication about the ‘unforeseen’ actions which may later require more work and therefore more cost. To a lawyer this seems like an obvious reason why such clients should seek professional legal advice, but to a novice who has little experience of the potential pitfalls of “going it alone” the argument is less apparent.

  2. Surely the results of your poll are not that surprising. There are some truly inspiring individuals (be they lawyers or not) and likewise there are some lawyers, who are truly uninspiring and not a good fit for chairing anything.

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