Leveraging Your Reputation: Review your past to help your future

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 Association CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

Things can be going well with your practice and career, and then there can be a glitch: a media outlet brings up a past mistake that you’ve made, and you don’t know what to do. Even if you’re moved on from your transgressions, “No comment” or “I don’t want to talk about that” is not the best response because it will make the media dig even further. The best way to prevent any anxiety about your imperfect past is to prepare now by thinking about what you’ve done and what kind of response you’re going to have just in case it comes up.

So as the year is still new, take some time out of your busy schedule to evaluate your past. Be honest with yourself: Is there something that you think would hinder your public relations success? Were you sued for malpractice 10 years ago, and even got some bad publicity from it? Everyone makes mistakes, but your past actions don’t have to affect your future.

Suppose you used to practice real estate law, but a deal went wrong. Perhaps you went to court, paid fines or were sued, or simply went into business with someone who was shady, and decided you had enough and wanted to move on. Now you’re doing tax law and are thinking that those ugly real estate deals are behind you. Then a news story comes up about a building you handled that’s in dispute, and your name has emerged in connection to it, even though it was over 20 years ago. Someone asks you about it. What do you do?

If you’ve really made a change and are clear of problems, then you can turn the situation into a positive and let the writer or reporter know that you no longer practice real estate law, but used that experience to help you with your current tax practice. You could say that you’ve learned it’s important to pay attention to details, which is what you do now in every case that you handle. You can also generalize the lessons so that the audience can learn something, too. That way, you acknowledge your past and use it to help your present. The key is to turn a negative into a positive.

But to avoid being put on the spot like that, prepare now. Think about and practice your answers so that you can respond to friendly and hostile people’s questions. That way, you’ll keep yourself under control instead of crumbling and saying something you’ll regret or that will make a negative impression.

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