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Editorial - Slightly off message

A number of professional organizations have in recent years run advertising to enhance the public's perception of their members. These include the certified management accountants and professional engineers.

Some professions such as doctors, nurses, and firefighters don't need such PR. Others do. An Australian survey released last year about the most and least trusted professions wasn't the first and won't be the last to find legal beagles near the bottom of the pack. In this study, lawyers ranked 23rd out of 26, ahead of car salesmen, real estate agents, and politicians.

It's always been an uphill battle for lawyers. Within the last few months, the Toronto Star wrote a serious of highly unflattering articles about the Law Society of Upper Canada, which I'm sure did nothing to improve the public's attitude toward the legal profession. And daily you'll hear lawyer jokes or people whining about how lawyers are ripping them off and charging exorbitant amounts for hardly any work.

Working to address this perception disaster, the Canadian Bar Association developed a campaign in the spring of 2004 in response to a survey in which the CBA's members said they felt the association should endeavour to improve the public's opinion about lawyers. According to CBA spokeswoman Hannah Bernstein, the most recent Ipsos Reid tracking study conducted in October 2005 indicated that 74 per cent of members still saw it as "highly relevant."

The CBA created a series of print ads and a television spot, which ran last fall. Taking advantage of the huge numbers of Canadians tuning into Olympic Games' coverage, the CBA has decided to run the TV ads again. The current campaign is running during the Olympics: off-prime on CBC, off-prime and prime on Newsworld, and off-prime and prime on TSN. French ads are running on RDS and Radio Canada.

So in between the amusing ads of beavers Gordon and Frank shilling for Bell and the tear-jerker Tim Hortons commercial showing the hard-ass grandfather bringing his son a double-double at the rink, you'll occasionally catch a glimpse of Ritu Banerjee, lawyer.

Lots of people will see the ads. I have, quite a few times. However, while the accountants' and engineers' advertising campaigns were slick, professional and left an impression of quality and competence, the CBA's efforts can only be described as "cheeseball," looking as if someone put it together with an old handycam.

One viewer likened the spot, which has Banerjee coming across more as a teacher than a lawyer, to the short in-flight safety flicks you watch before take off. "It's a disgrace. We look like a charity," said another young lawyer.

If you haven't caught the ad during your Olympic viewing, it's on the CBA's web site at

It seems lots of people are seeing the ads, the airtime for which is costing the CBA $85,000, but it may not be making the impression the association had in mind. Perhaps the CBA should try again and give its message a bit more professional polish. These ones aren't going to do

anything to improve lawyers' reputations.

— Gail J. Cohen
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