Reputation defined by Merrimack-Webster is “an overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general” and “being recognized for merit, achievement, reliability, trustworthiness and kindness.” Reputations are built on trust and confidence and may take years to build but they are fragile and can be shattered by one act that causes others to question everything they knew about us.
Building and maintaining a strong professional reputation may sound complicated, but three primary areas make it easy to do so.
1. Enhance your influence skills.
Influence is the ability to impact others, create trust, share ideas and recommendations, and shape the way people think in such a way that people seek your advice and input. Enhancing your influence can boost your reputation by impacting how you are perceived.
As attorneys, it’s important to be viewed as a strategic partner so that clients value your perspective and turn to you for important decisions. If you are in an advisory/corporate role, it’s critical to participate in planning conversations about initiatives and corporate direction. The cost to the company for delaying or excluding legal involvement can be quite significant from both a monetary and non-monetary perspective, ranging from litigation and outside counsel costs, as well as regulatory & compliance penalties, to breach of customer loyalties and employee morale.
To become more influential—to get that “seat at the table”—your clients need to trust you, they need to feel that you can deliver real value and that you have their back, and they need to have confidence in you and your abilities. Some considerations:
- How can you create value for your clients and be sure the clients understand that value? Value is about forwarding their needs and agenda, not yours. What might motivate someone to work with legal, to bring them in upfront?
- What are the ways you can provide solutions and new perspectives without its seeming to be about forwarding a personal agenda? What are your clients’ primary needs/interests/concerns/frustrations that you can address?
- How you are communicating? Does your style appeal to your audience? If you are working with creative executives, using too much legalese may intimidate or confuse them, or they may just view you as the “suit” and not perceive you as fitting into the team. What is your client’s perspective about legal? How is this impacting your influence?
2. Build your brand.
Studies have shown that we form opinions about others within 7 seconds of meeting them and they about us! Entire industries (PR, social media, etc.) have been built on cultivating one’s image, perception and reputation.
So what can lawyers do to build their brand? This is of particular interest to those in legal departments because so often attorneys are viewed as the Dept. of “NO” and some internal clients may have a negative impression of working with lawyers. Some legal departments are so focused on the risk-management aspect of the job that they forget that they are there to serve as well. Law departments could greatly benefit for having clarity on how they want to be perceived and how they want to support their “clients.”
Asking the following critical questions can fundamentally change the role of the legal department and will certainly help to enhance influence and create a more positive and inviting perception by the supported client groups.
- Who are we (i.e. what is our role)?
- What do we do?
- How do we want to be perceived?
- How do we add value?
When you as legal counsel or a legal department are viewed more favorably, everyone in it feels better about their job.
3. Cultivate strong relationships.
Cultivating powerful relationships is also about creating trust, respect and connection. With a hat tip to the common sales adage, “People want to work with people they like,” building strong relationships can go a long way.
Try this: Identify your relationships by breaking them into four categories: Strong (those who are advocates and supporters), neutrals, skeptics and antagonists.
Pay particular attention to the antagonists and ask yourself: Is there a path to improvement? Skeptics and neutrals are really important as there’s potential to shift these to a positive. Cultivating people into either allies or, at a minimum, to a neutral can have a significant impact.
Make sure to nurture your strong relationships as they are your “front row” cheering section.