Lawyers: What’s Your Reputation Worth?

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

Benjamin Franklin

Let’s get one thing straight: Your reputation is your career. Treasure it; hone it with maniacal fanaticism; guard it with your life; and don’t ever forget that once you begin to lose it, you will have the most almighty job to rescue it.

Building a reputation is notoriously difficult. There are so many factors that go into the mix:

  • Do clients actually know You for what you Do?
  • Do people like you? Sometimes you have to deliver news that clients don’t like to hear, and like most human beings they are apt to shoot the messenger no matter how much you seek to distance yourself from the law that your are giving meaning to (n.b. how many times have I have found myself jumping to the law’s defence in the teeth of my client who vehemently protests that: “The law is an Ass”. Trite but true.)
  • Do clients trust you? One would hope so but there have been occasions where I know jolly well that the client is paying lip service to what I am saying and is just as likely to go off and speak to his friend who usually has some legal training to double-check my advice. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with someone wanting a second opinion but I would much prefer for clients to be upfront about it. Who knows I might be able to help the new incumbent get to the bottom of things a damn site quicker than having to rummage around in a plethora of unorganised papers.
  • Getting the result that the client wants. In the world of litigation that I used to ply my trade, I remember a client once saying to me “that all you solicitors are the same: you just suck lemons and never commit to a yes/no answer”. What he was referring to was the fact that I was unable to sensibly (in his eyes) predict the outcome of the trial. Thankfully the case settled on appropriate terms for the client but had we gone to trial and, given its unpredictability, lost then no matter how much I had tried to cushion his expectations that would certainly have had a negative impact on my reputation. I am not suggesting that we should tell clients what they want to hear but nowadays clients have incredibly high expectations and with the level of fees involved there is an imputed suggestion that either in defending or bringing proceedings, if they go past close of pleadings, that you must have very firmly nailed your colours to the mast. Heaven help you if your client’s evidence doesn’t come up to proof and you have to pull the plug half way down the track!
  • Not upsetting your referrers. It is important that you keep a careful handle on this one. They may either be clients or more likely refer a client of theirs to you.
  • Keeping your experts on side. This is both a question of making sure that you use them enough times for them to remember you and making sure that you don’t find yourself always contradicting their advice. Oh and they don’t appreciate being kept waiting for their fee.
  • Then there is the internal conundrum. You might have a client roster as long as your arm but if you don’t get on with your colleagues then you are really stifling your reputation. I remember one lawyer in particular who was extremely capable and technically strong but he was so arrogant and full of his own self-importance that he had practically shut out any possibility of being referred work internally – well at least by me. Oh sure colleagues knew him for what he did, but once someone else came along who could do the job then they were much more likely to refer clients to him. They could see a much better fit and also if there was an existing client relationship they could see that being more easily preserved.

As well as the external and internal facing stuff, your reputation has to be built on one simple aspect of your professional career. You have to get better. No I don’t just mean do more of the same work and get more experience, I mean spend time and yes, sometimes, your own money or working on your weaknesses to improve your proficiency, capability and all round supremacy. This requires a rare gift: passion. You have to care not in a narcissistic way but so that you can serve your clients to the very highest standards possible. Ask yourself how many lawyers do you know who have, in their own time, gone off to study, attend courses or even spend time out of the profession (not on secondment) – perhaps working for a NFP organisation – enhancing their reputation? Or even read a book: Stephen R Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People would be good start.

Nowadays the idea of a reputation sounds like hard work and there are too many people looking for a quick fix which sometimes means trying to bathe in the reflective glory of someone else. Now I am not decrying this but you need to consider your own persona and find out what your reputation means to others.

If you are not sure what sort of reputation you have then for heaven’s sake ask someone. Get some feedback. But be prepared for some ‘nasties’. You know some real truisms. Brace yourself. But if you can put yourself out there then it is very likely that what you will find is that even your raving fans will help you hone and refine aspects of your persona and capability that if acted on (the gory bits) will enable you to fashion and refine your reputation beyond all recognition.

This is important stuff. It is not about branding, although your Brand is important. No it is elementary stuff: if you have a reputation that does not reflect you then it will be self-limiting and stifling of your career. Remember excellence begets excellence and your reputation is the most important thing you will ever own.

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  1. Betsy thanks for your kind words. Having spent 14 years in the legal profession one thing it taught me was Patience.

    On the subject of reputation, I do wish lawyers would take it much, much more seriously. All of them think that once they have earned a bit of respect that they can forget about it but it is a lifelong expedition. :-)

  2. Betsy thanks for your kind words. Having spent 14 years in the legal profession one thing it taught me was Patience.

    On the subject of reputation, I do wish lawyers would take it much, much more seriously. All of them think that once they have earned a bit of respect that they can forget about it but it is a lifelong expedition. :-)

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