When you were in law school, the professors harped on the need to pay attention to your reputation. I recall it coming up constantly during my three years at Wake Forest.
Oddly, they never really delved into what they meant by reputation. They never clarified who it was that mattered when determining one’s reputation.
Over time, I’ve figured out that there are two audiences for reputation, and they’re very distinct.
There’s the legal community (and I think that’s who the professors speak of when they talk about reputation).
There’s also the community of clients.
Most lawyers I talk to care about the former and not the latter. They’re all about what the other lawyers think and what the judges think. That’s the reputation they get most wound up about protecting.
Those same lawyers are usually far less concerned about their standing among prospective clients. They don’t focus on that group like they focus on the lawyers.
I think that’s a mistake. It’s important to focus on your reputation in the community: the non-lawyer community.
Who are you and your lawyers thinking about?
They say actions speak louder than words, so check the actions.
When a lawyer or judge calls, how quickly do you return the call? What about when a client or prospective client calls?
When you go to court, do you sit with your client or with the lawyers?
Do you value an opportunity to speak at a CLE program more than the opportunity to speak at a civic group lunch?
Do you join the bar association or the rotary club?
Do your actions reveal that you care more about what your peers think about you or what the community thinks about you?
It’s important for you to be aware of your thinking on this issue. You need to have some level of consciousness on the topic because you’re constantly making resource (time, money, etc.) allocation decisions that enhance or detract from your reputation in one community or the other.
I’m not suggesting that the legal community reputation doesn’t matter: it does. However, I am suggesting that, in some practice areas—like family law—your reputation matters as much or more outside of the legal community.
I’ve got a friend with an amazing reputation in the family law legal community. The guy is known for being a super smart, super effective lawyer. However, he doesn’t have many clients. His reputation is great with his competitors, but they don’t have much business to send his way. He would be better off with a great reputation among other groups in the community.
You should assess your mindset about reputation, the needs of your practice from a reputation perspective, and the impact of your decisions on the objectives you’re pursuing. Awareness is the goal here, not a shift of focus. You need to decide what matters to you. You should assess how much of what you do to enhance your reputation is ego driven and how much is about building your business. You need an awareness of whether you’re making good business decisions or just doing what you were told by those law professors.