It seems that a week doesn’t go by that I’m not urging an attorney that they should let their hair down a bit in their online and offline communications. Show some personality. Demonstrate that they have a sense of humor and that they’re not too full of themselves. Or as I sometimes put it, allow yourself to be human.
Why do I feel so strongly about this? Because the world is filled with far too many attorneys who are afraid to pull back the professional curtain or take off the all-business mask. And it’s hurting them – even if they don’t know it. It’s hurting them because it violates the time-tested troika of business development success: People do business with those they Know, Like and Trust. And yes, that’s true even when it comes to hiring lawyers. Note that “Like” is the bridge to get prospective clients from “Know” to “Trust.” And if you don’t think this applies to attorneys, consider this age-old axiom: “People hire lawyers, not law firms.” Is that true in every case? No, but it’s certainly an important – and neglected – bit of wisdom.
One very well known individual who has difficulty talking about himself is a non-practicing attorney named Mitt Romney. He just had a bit of a coming-out party down in Tampa. The lead-up to Romney’s acceptance speech – and one of the main goals for the Republican National Convention – was that Romney and various family members and friends were going to showcase his character, his personality and his private side that thus far he had been unwilling to share. Republican pollsters were very concerned because Romney’s likeabiity factor was far below Obama’s. And as any politico can tell you, that matters a lot on Election Day.
Why is this important to you? Because you have your own Election Day every time that you meet with a prospective client. And because the unwillingness or inability to talk about oneself in a personal or humble or compelling way is epidemic among attorneys all across this great land of ours – and it’s hurting their careers, just as the political pollsters have found that it’s hurt Romney thus far in the presidential race.
No doubt you’ve heard how the American people want to know about the “real person” behind each of the candidates, and this makes a certain amount of sense. Even when candidates are willing to talk about their platforms and plans in some specificity, voters reasonably want to know more about the person behind the position papers. After all, before we entrust someone with the country’s nuclear codes, shouldn’t we be provided with a sense of who they are and what type of character they have?
Well, for exactly those reasons, prospective customers and clients want to know who you really are. Even if you’re not provided with the nuclear codes in your job, your clients likely feel that being able to trust you is one of the most important factors in one of their most important professional relationships. And remember that “Like” is the most common bridge to “Trust.”
So, what can you do about a bad case of being personality-challenged? I recommend initially taking small steps to personalize your presence, both online and offline. Here are a few:
- Do you speak in legalese to non-attorney clients? If so, stop it. They are not impressed. They are wondering why you insist on doing so, without explaining what you mean.
- Do you have a blog? If not, start one. And use the first person in your blog posts, even if you use the third person throughout the rest of your website. Your blog can be a good place to tell a story or discuss how you handle certain types of cases or even to explain a legal concept (in non-legalese, of course).
- Is there a photo of you on your website? Is it relatively recent? Are you smiling? These are all very important for communicating a sense of who you are, and that you’re approachable and yes, likeable.
- Tell a story that says something personal about you – beyond your skill as an attorney. If it’s a funny story, you get double points, and if it’s self-deprecating in any way, triple points.
- How do you use social media? There are many benefits of social media for lawyers and law firms, but most of those benefits accrue only if the media is used as more than simply a depersonalized channel of law firm updates. And no, I don’t want you to tell me what you had for breakfast. I’m much more of a believer in using social media to help brand you as a thought leader in your practice area. But how about being a thought leader with a personality? Now, that’s someone I’d be excited to work with. And so would the media.
And really, this is just the start. I’m sure you can come up with many more examples of how to be human. Your clients will appreciate it, as will those with whom you work. And at least as important, once you’ve let the mask drop, you’ll find how much more pleasurable it can be to come to work each day.