Leveraging Your Reputation: Don’t Let Your Reputation Sink

Tom Ciesielka is President of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has over 25 years of marketing and public relations experience, working with individual lawyers and midsize law firms. He is also a former board member of the Legal Marketing Association in Chicago and has spoken at Chicago Bar Associations CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

Some people want to appear on the first page of a Google search, but only if it’s good news. Imagine if your clients are not happy with your work, and their negative opinions show up in online searches of your name. That can make your reputation sink very quickly.

While some complaints can make even the most respected attorneys look bad online, it really has to do with how someone builds his or her image through internal and external public relations. If you want to manage your reputation and keep it in a positive light, even when it may be darkened by clients’ complaints, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Reputation is connected to character: Character is who you are when nobody is looking. If a firm has  a culture where attorneys can admit mistakes to partners and to clients, then the firm and individual attorneys will come out ahead in the reputation game. We all make mistakes; the key is how quickly we address them and how we go about correcting the matter above the call of duty.

But it’s not just about mistakes: if a firm has developed a negative reputation for not billing fairly, then attorneys and other employees should be allowed to point out such discrepancies. After all, you don’t want your firm to get a negative audit in addition to dissatisfied clients, because your reputation would spiral downward even further.

2. Character is connected to consistency: What you do repeatedly is how you are remembered over time. Do you avoid making the same mistake more than a few times? Does your firm empower various employees to make reputation-saving decisions on their own? Are people in the firm being honest about billing and accountability to clients who are paying a lot of money for effective legal representation? Consistency is important when every document counts, whether a case is large or small. It’s also important in the daily actions we all take.

3. Consistency will always get you better “rankings” online and offline: The Internet is a dominant force in assessing someone’s reputation, and its influence probably won’t diminish over time. However, traditional word of mouth trumps everything else. A potential client can do an online search and read about you through words, but when he or she simply talks to someone who has used your services, it results in a more personal and immediate assessment.

Think about it: building your reputation from the inside out will help you and your firm stay the course, no matter what a client has experienced.

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