20130714-112955.jpg Americans were asked to rate 10 professions on their contributions to society. Lawyers were dead last.

This from a Pew Research Center survey shared by Kent Hoover (@SmallBizOnHill), Washington Bureau Chief for American City Business Journals, who warned business execs they had sunk so low only lawyers were below them.

While there have been modest declines in public appreciation for several occupations, the order of the ratings is roughly the same as it was in 2009. Among the 10 occupations the survey asked respondents to rate, lawyers are at the bottom of the list. About one-in-five Americans (18%) say lawyers contribute a lot to society, while 43% say they make some contribution; fully a third (34%) say lawyers contribute not very much or nothing at all.

Business execs, journalists, artists, engineers, clergy, scientists, doctors, and teachers were all above us–most by far. Military personnel, understandably topped the list.

Should we care about how the public perceives us as lawyers? Dam right we should. The law in this country is what separates us from anarchy. The law allows the little guy to stand up to the big guy.

When the public thinks so little of lawyers, people don’t seek out the help of a lawyer when they need one. To enforce their rights, to negotiate an agreement, or address family affairs. Applies to businesses and consumers.

I’m not looking for full employment for lawyers. I’m looking for people’s rights, liberty, and property to be protected.

Lawyers have done little, if anything, to demonstrate their value to society. If scoring things by what society thought of lawyers 30 years ago and today is fair, state bar associations and the American Bar Association have done nothing to help.

What can lawyers do? They can start engaging with members of society in a real and authentic way. Engage folks where they’re interacting with friends, family members, business associates, classmates, and the like. On the Internet. But lawyers, law firms, and bar associations are too busy coming up with policies and procedures guiding the proper online behavior of lawyers. All we’ve accomplished is scaring lawyers who care about helping people from participating on social networks and in Internet conversation.

Lawyers can also get real and authentic in their use of the net. Hiring someone to write blog content for you so you can sit on a raft on a lake is not engaging with people – whether execs, small business people, or consumers.

Hiring someone to handle your social networking, even internal marketing professionals, makes as much sense as sending someone else out to a networking event or town hall meeting where, because of what you know, you’re one of the honored guests.

Legal marketing and bar association conferences, rather than talking about search, traffic, and visibility, let’s talk about how individual lawyers are helping their target audience through the lawyers online activity. How can we, as professionals serving lawyers (some of us lawyers ourselves) help lawyers help their target audience through the lawyer’s Internet contributions and engagement? Lawyers helping people online and growing their business are not mutually exclusive.

The Internet, and what we’re calling today social media and social networking, is a great equalizer. Used smartly and properly, lawyers can improve their image. Not through a facade, but buy really making a difference.

That’s important not just for lawyers, but for the people we serve. After all, being a lawyer is all about serving others isn’t it?

Image courtesy of Flickr by Marc Falardeau