How better to ring in 2017 than have a pop at the legal profession? That was the approach taken by the Daily Mail on Monday with this story headlined “Lawyers raked in £32.2bn in just ONE year: Figure goes up by a quarter in just five years”.
It is a shabby, muddled story and one barrister did a good job in dissecting it on his blog here. It’s not really news – just a chance to bait readers into lawyer-bashing rants in the comments section.
It raises once more the very difficult and important debate over the profession’s public image, but what this particular story also shows is that when you put out a press release, you need to be aware that potentially anything in it could end up catching a journalist’s attention.
The caption to the second picture sources the story to figures “released” by the Legal Services Board (LSB). From what I can tell, they were actually mentioned in point 8 of the ‘notes to editors’ at the end of the board’s most recent press release, which in turn links to a page on the Office for National Statistics website that updates, on a monthly basis, the turnover in production and services industries, and includes figures on the legal sector.
But the notes are largely boilerplate and have featured in the board’s press releases for months. Why did they suddenly get picked up? Probably just someone (the article is not bylined) looking around for a story at a very slow news time, but it fitted neatly into the Mail’s general anti-lawyer narrative, as shown again by its lead today on “blood sucking” lawyers advertising their services in hospitals.
The LSB cites them to show the growth and success of the legal market, but as this story shows, there are always two ways to look at any story. I can recall plenty of times when I have found a story at the bottom of a press release or even in the notes to editors which was far more interesting than the one the release was sent out to promote.
There is only so much you can do to guard against a risk like this, and I’m sure the LSB never imagined the figures could be interpreted so aggressively, but it is a good lesson about the need to check everything in your press release. And don’t try and hide stuff away in a release in the hope nobody will notice it – because, while a lot of journalists won’t read beyond the headline and first couple of paragraphs, somebody will.
The money that lawyers make has shot up by nearly a quarter in just five years, it was revealed yesterday. Despite strikes by barristers over their pay levels and protests from senior lawyers who demand greater taxpayer subsidies, the legal profession has been booming, according to official figures. They show that last year lawyers across Britain achieved a turnover of £32.2 billion – almost 24 per cent more than the £26.0 billion they earned in 2011.