You’ve heard the saying, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” When it comes to the Art of Persuasion, this is most certainly true—but it’s also not conclusive.
By the time you graduate from law school, you’ve spent many hours crafting arguments and learning to become persuasive. The problem of applying these practices to the real world is that you learn to craft arguments based on logic, but in the real world, emotions run the show.
When you walk into an interview or pick up the phone to speak with potential clients, they aren’t thinking about your capacity to create a logical presentation of your skills. They are thinking about how you look like this girl they went to high school with or how you sound like Gilbert Gottfried when you laugh. Based on those things, they are making a judgment about you as a first impression. Luckily, there are many ways for you to make a second impression that allow you to craft a persuasive argument in your favor.
Who Are You Trying to Persuade?
The most important consideration for persuasion is the who. Who are you trying to persuade? A potential client to retain your services? A colleague to consider you for referrals? A potential employer to hire you? Your boss to consider you for a promotion or give you a raise? When it comes to persuasion, the most influential argument will be what does that person get out of it? You must identify your audience’s needs or desires. Figure this out, and you’ll have a much more compelling case, no matter the audience.
Blogs, website, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn—anywhere people can find you, they are going to. Privacy filters can create a false sense of security on Facebook profiles, and if you are posting things that would make your grandmother clutch her pearls, I would advise you to change them immediately. In the digital age, once you hit publish, what you say could haunt you for a very long time, and you want to be sure that potential employers or colleagues won’t be embarrassed to associate with you if they read what you put online.
When it comes to your online presentation, you also need to consider where your viewers are. Are your potential clients more likely to be on a particular social media platform? Do some research based on the average age of your clients and popularity of social media with those age groups. Also take a look at your Google Analytics and see if you are getting more traffic from any particular platform more than others.
Presenting in Person
Lawyers generally know how to dress to look professional, so we don’t need to spend much time on those elements, but it goes without saying that you should dress in a way that will inspire trust from your clients. This may not be a suit, but you get to decide that, unless your firm has strict guidelines.
Networking is the real area of concern when making a case for yourself in person. Begin by crafting a quick introduction that you can memorize and adjust based on your audience. I’ve learned that lawyers can find it challenging to introduce themselves without doing one of two things: (1) giving a monologue that starts in law school and ends with what they did today; or (2) responding with, “I’m a lawyer.” Neither option is the one you should choose. The first is more than anyone needs to know upon meeting you, and the second makes you seem aloof and above the people you are speaking to, as if they couldn’t possibly understand the complexities of different areas of law. Frankly, they may not be able to, but it’s not up to you to decide that for them. Coming out with a monologue can have the same effect. At a recent legal conference, I asked a fellow digital marketer what he does at his agency (before introducing myself), and he proceeded to explain in painstaking detail the daily duties of his job. I stopped him fairly quickly to let him know that, as a fellow digital marketing person, I do indeed understand what SEO is and just asked for his title. It made an awkward introduction for both of us.
So, how do you talk about yourself? Jayson Gaignard, a master networker and owner of Mastermind Talks, gives this formula for proper networking introductions: “I help [who/client] achieve [what result].” As a corporate tax attorney, you could respond with, “I work at Firm XYZ, and I help large corporations avoid tax mistakes.” This formula allows you to say what you do and how you do it without posturing or using jargon.
Beyond the introduction, when you attend a networking event, the priority, the focus, should be on making connections and not scoring clients or a job offer. If the bulk of your time is spent asking other people questions, you are doing it right. This can both help you find common ground with someone else and make people like you more.
In the past year, I’ve met a group of professionals who do this very well: financial planners. There must be some training program where they learn to ask interesting questions that build rapport and engage without selling. Take a hint from this group and ask about someone else’s background, their travel plans, work challenges, and more.
More of an introvert? All it takes is one icebreaker. As soon as you introduce yourself to that first person, the rest of the night will be easier. Start with one person, that’s all. As an introvert myself, I recommend limiting your time at these events. It can be extremely taxing to output for hours when you aren’t comfortable, so don’t feel pressure to stay until the end if you are emotionally tapped out. It’s better to leave 30 minutes early and reboot than stay until the end and feel unable to attend that other event later in the week. #Selfcare, right?
Presenting with Words
Showcasing your personality can be difficult with words alone. Most professionals tend to write as though they are back in college, working through those multi-page essays, trying to get to the minimum word count. What matters much more is defining your voice and providing information that people will care to read.
Defining your voice is a process and can take time. I challenge you to take any article or blog post you’ve written recently and read it aloud. Maybe even record yourself reading it. Listen back and ask yourself, “does this sound like me?” It’s taken a few years, but I have developed my own “voice” when I write—it includes a healthy dose of sarcasm and sayings generally employed by grandmothers.
Back to the previous section and my comment about using jargon: Absolutely do not use jargon in your client-focused communications or marketing. The fastest way to create a divide between yourself and potential clients is to make them feel stupid by using every 25-cent word you know when a 5-cent word will suffice. Leave the jargon in your legal briefs and communications with other lawyers. One of the best things you can do for content is check the grade level of your writing. I use the Hemingway App for this, but Microsoft Word has this feature as well. The average American reads at a fifth- to eighth-grade level, which is far below the typical lawyer’s personal reading level. Your potential clients could be above or below this average, but create the content to match that level.
If You Build It, They Will Be Persuaded
Building your profile. If you were to survey the general population, very few people actually want to follow their lawyer on social media. Very few people are still engaging with brands online in general, but the brands that are succeeding are providing entertainment value, useful information, and engaging content. As a practicing attorney, the majority of your online profiles should be giving information that matters to potential clients and informing people of your activities, such as charity work or non-identifying case information. I’ve seen a great Instagram account from a criminal defense attorney who posts short videos with practical tips on what to do in response to specific issues that his potential clients would care about. Providing this type of information, instead of calls for consultations and sales pitches, will make it more likely that people will actually want to follow your law firm on social media.
Beyond your social media profiles, the bio page on your website is the place where you can shine. You may ask if clients actually care about your bio? Yes, but not if it’s boring and self-serving. One of the best examples of a lawyer bio comes from Minneapolis nonprofit attorney Jess Birken (birkenlaw.com/who-is-jess-birken). What does she do differently? She talks about who she is in first person, as though she is speaking directly to the reader. Then she lists education and credentials, followed by a more exhaustive bio for people who care to read more.
Here is my recommendation for the order of your bio page:
- Personal introduction: “I am ___ and I work to help ___ to/with ___.” Then talk a little bit about your personality and what it would be like to work with you.
- Bullet points for education, boards, notable verdicts, and publications. Keep this list under ten items, but closer to five. As Jess did, create a link to your LinkedIn page if readers want to see more.
- A formal and robust biography written in either first or third person (you choose). If you didn’t include details about family or interests in the intro paragraph, add that information here.
- Links to social media profiles and online articles.
- If you are in a multi-person firm, include testimonials specific to you here. Two or three reviews are enough—or one video of a client testimonial. (Check with the rules in your jurisdiction concerning reviews and testimonials.)
Building your brand. Branding is one of the more difficult areas to develop, especially for lawyers who fall into the logic-over-emotion category. Branding can seem “squishy” and intangible, but it doesn’t have to be. If you simply can’t wrap your head around branding exercises, hire an expert. It will be an investment, but there are graphic designers who specialize in branding and can walk you through the process and get you the end result of logos, colors, and a website.
If you are a new lawyer or an established lawyer looking to rebrand or identify your brand (basically everyone), read Brand: It Ain’t the Logo* (*It’s What People Think of You) by Ted Matthew. This book walks you through the process of identifying your mission and values to identify who your company is and not what you want it to be. Logos should reflect the brand and not the brand identity. Once you’ve established your firm mission and values, use a graphic designer you trust or find someone on a site such as 99Designs whose work you like and identify with.
Work with your website designer to craft a site that reflects the values-based branding with imagery and colors. Don’t feel encumbered by traditional lawyer colors of blue and gray, unless that matches your firm’s aesthetic. We encourage our clients to use authentic photos of the firm, the office, and clients whenever possible.
Building your credibility. Most lawyers think that credibility comes in the form of verdicts, the law school you attended, or the firm you work for. These things will matter to some potential clients or employers, but what matters more is you.
Your social proof will lend far more credibility than a bio that states you went to Harvard Law and helped all the puppies in the world. What is social proof? It ranges from testimonials, reviews, and social media profile to your website itself. If you have negative online reviews or post inflammatory things on social media, your social proof shows that you are not a trustworthy professional. Alternatively, every positive review and proven testimonial add to your social proof and create trust with potential clients or employers.
Additionally, if you don’t exist online because you falsely believe the Internet doesn’t matter or want to be “off the grid,” you simply don’t exist for many people in real life, either. I’ve heard other lawyers say that they simply won’t make referrals for a lawyer without a website, let alone a bad website. These fellow lawyers understand that the first step a person makes after receiving a lawyer referral is to Google that person. If you can’t be found online, there is no information to judge whether you can be trusted.
Building credibility in-person will call on your EQ, or emotional intelligence. This will matter just as much when you interact with potential or current clients as potential employers. Potential clients want to know that you care about their issue, whereas potential employers want to know that you will be an asset to the team.
When it comes to clients, ask about more than their case. Ask about how they are doing, if they have resources and support or need recommendations for professional assistance.
If you tend to get clients through referrals or are looking to build a larger referral network, resist the urge to fire off angry e-mails to fellow attorneys. This is more likely to lead to a reputation as difficult to work with or shunning fellow professionals, and it is generally a bad practice to have.
Persuasion in the 140-Character Age
There is so much concern over shortening attention spans of Millennials, and the Internet will tell you they have a shorter attention span than goldfish, but this idea has been proven false. (In related news, it turns out that we don’t actually know how long a goldfish’s attention span is.) What is really happening can be attributed to the oversaturation of available content. Potential clients now have access to so much information that they are more informed and aware than previous generations. Use this trend to your advantage. Create content that educates and empowers your followers—whether they are potential clients, employers, or other lawyers. If you are making things of value, you will eventually get noticed.
This change also gives people the opportunity to make content in the format they most enjoy. It’s no longer the world of blogs. You can record videos, podcasts, or Instagram to the best of your ability. Growing an audience can mean followers instead of subscribers, so don’t be afraid to focus your energy on one area that you prefer. I have seen some great legal content on almost every possible platform: Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and the list goes on.
Are You Persuaded?
No matter who is looking to hire you, for whatever reason, people are constantly looking for reasons to be persuaded that you are the wrong choice. Hopefully, with this article, you now feel as though you have the tools to prove that you are the right choice.