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“As a trial lawyer in front of a jury and an author of true-crime books, credibility has always meant everything to me. My only master and my only mistress are the facts and objectivity.” –Vincent Bugliosi
Credibility is king. Credibility impacts your relationships with clients, with the Court, with opposing counsel, with the jury, in negotiations, with the arbitration panel, with mediators, with potential clients, with…the list goes on. In an article from the American Bar Association, writer Evan L. Loeffler, wrote:
The credibility of the lawyer is something that each individual lawyer has to cultivate every day. It flows from the lawyer’s reputation among other lawyers in the community and the public at large. The never-ending list of lawyer jokes attest to the fact that attorneys as a profession suffer from a credibility deficit to begin with. Lawyers are stereotyped as arrogant, nasty, dishonest liars willing to eat their own to gain an advantage. The lawyer who exacerbates the problem by playing to type serves not only to strengthen the stereotype but also decreases the lawyer’s individual effectiveness as an advocate by eroding his or her credibility. The lawyer will be regarded by colleagues and the court as untrustworthy and undeserving of referrals or the benefit of any doubt.
The negative impact caused by losing one’s credibility is harsh. But credibility can also be a proactive way to further your legal career. Here are a few suggestions for how counselors can build credibility in his or her practice.
Attorneys are writers. Publication within a bar magazine, a trade newsletter, or other third-party publisher can be a useful tool to promote yourself within the industry. Publication, according to FindLaw, “can help lawyers build a name, establish themselves as experts, and increase their credibility.” Plus. you need not publish exclusively within the legal industry.
Writing non-legal works can boost your credibility and may also improve your well-being. In a prior post for this Blog, the attorney Andrew Baldwin, who published Desert Guardian and Raptor Canyon, two novels in the Relic Series, illustrated how writing fiction made him a better, happier person and lawyer. He wrote: "What brought me slowly to my first novel, and quickly to my second, was a desperate need to exercise part of my brain not used in legal analysis or argument – a part of me that wanted no boundaries, no footnotes, no rigid-rule formats, or dry-toast Latin phrases.... I think that many lawyers have the talent and the writing itch, but never find the time to scratch it. The key is to write to satisfy yourself, whether you ever publish or not. And if you’re not having fun with it, you’re not doing it right!"
Exercise your writing prowess on paper not used for legal briefs or client reports. Extend your reach into industry publications and non-legal forums and you'll likely see your credibility rise.
2. Be Consistent, Be Authentic
The human brain is designed to recognize patterns and to sniff out inconsistencies. The attorney who changes facts midstream, or makes an about face on legal positions, stinks of a lack of credibility.
According to Articulate Persuasion, authenticity is a solid way to avoid the inconsistency pitfall. “There are thousands of little ways we can undermine ourselves by being inconsistent,” explains Articulate Persuasion, however “the cure is simple – Authenticity. If you are authentic at all times, you won’t be inconsistent. That doesn’t mean you share every side of yourself with everyone. It simply means you aren’t trying to be ‘like’ anyone else. You lead with your best self. That establishes and reinforces credibility.”
Be authentic in your relationships and you’re apt to be consistent. And in being a consistent counselor, you're more likely to get a credibility boost among clients, the Court, and other practitioners.
3. Reality on Reality's Terms
Attorneys are quick to fall in love with their own case; they can recite their best arguments and most helpful facts while asleep. But what about the opposing perspective; how about those undermining arguments and facts? The one-sided attorney who fails to acknowledge an opposing view is quick to lose credibility. That's not to say an attorney must be prepared to fold in the face of undermining facts or arguments. Rather, maintaining credibility requires acknowledging reality. Getting to know your own case's downsides in the first step in that process.
Tristan McCallis is the pen name for an attorney who authors articles on the legal profession. He can be contacted at TristanMcCallis@gmail.com