Having worked in the local court system for over ten years, I am still confounded by attorneys. On one hand, you can meet a lawyer who is a classy professional, wearing an expensive suit and driving a fancy car, and on the other hand, you can come across a sloppy hack who shows up late and unprepared, and only wears a jacket because local rules require it.
But what’s most striking to me is that attorneys don’t recognize that lay people can see the difference. We may not know the law, but we know you. We recognize that there’s a difference between a Constitutional scholar and an ambulance chaser.
The problem is, what if you fall in between the two extremes? What if your identity as an attorney is a little less apparent? How do you send the message that you’re one of the good guys?
Sure, there are elements of your reputation that are earned, rightfully or wrongfully. Whether you do a good job with certain aspects of the law, whether or not you’re particularly good at drafting a brief or arguing a motion. Even the intangibles, like whether or not you’re a good listener, or if you’re diligent in returning phone calls. Those qualities are self-evident and only take a bit of insight and proactivity to address in your favor.
But what can you do to win over the prospective client or garner the respect of your opponent?
Whether you’re a sole practitioner or a mid-level associate at a law firm, you have a commercial identity. People who interact with you are coming to identify who/what you are and bring that to bear when they do business with you. Or when they chose to not to do business with you.
The simple fact is that your visual style matters. How you dress, the car you drive, the business card you hand to people you meet all affect the way that you conduct business. The website that appears when somebody Googles your name tells a new client what to expect when they sign your retainer agreement.
But that’s not to suggest that you need to be attractive or fashion-conscious to be successful in business. What it suggests is that you need to be aware of your brand as an attorney, and to optimize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. That you need to do your best to put your best foot forward if you’re going to market yourself towards a successful law practice.