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The dynamic between lawyer confidence and reputation

Have you considered the connection between confidence and reputation?

It’s easy to make the connection between how confident you are and how persuasively you can make a point. When you’ve argued in front of a judge, jury, panel, or opposing counsel, you’ve probably experienced this confidence dynamic firsthand. When you feel confident, people see you as more effective, and you become more productive.

But have you considered how this dynamic plays out in other areas of your career and practice?

What legal consumers want

A noteworthy 24% of legal consumers list an attorney’s expertise as the top factor they consider when choosing which lawyer to hire, according to the 2018 U.S. Consumer Legal Needs Survey of 2,000 legal consumers. Expertise was the No. 1 factor legal consumers considered in making their decisions, outranking cost, location, and even word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family.

But having the expertise and projecting expertise are two entirely different things. The difference between having expertise and having a reputation for expertise comes down to one thing: confidence. 

Confidence is the foundation of your brand

Not only do your peers note expertise when evaluating the merit of your argument, but they also take your expertise into account when they decide what cases to refer your way. And referrals from fellow attorneys continue to be a major way in which customers first learn your name.

The reality is that brands are built on a perception of competence and confidence. Nobody ever says, “If you’ve been injured in a car accident, call us. We’ll give it a decent try, and we might even be able to help you out depending on how things go.”

What can you do about the confidence-reputation dynamic?

Considering the strong connection between confidence and reputation, you’re probably asking yourself what you can do about it.

Well, there are two concrete steps every attorney can take to increase their confidence in almost any situation.

  1. Visualize your future success.
    Sometimes the sheer scope of your challenges can appear overwhelming, at least at first glance. It’s important to keep perspective in mind in these cases.

    In the movie “Hoosiers,” the story of a small-town boys’ basketball team that makes it to the state championship in Indianapolis. Before the game, the players tour the basketball court. There they stand, in the largest arena any of them have ever seen. The players are intimidated, so their coach pulls out a tape measure.

    He measures the height of the basket. He measures the distance from the free-throw line to baseline. He shows them that the court is the exact size and shape of their home court, regardless of how many seats surround it. It’s all a matter of perspective.

    Perspective helps you get your bearings, and getting your bearings calms the nerves. Whether it’s game day, match day, a trial date, or a hearing date, having calm confidence has both tangible and intangible benefits.

    The people around you – your clients, peers, and opponents – will notice when you know what you’re walking into. This applies to the big picture, like knowing how your judge tends to respond to a specific type of motion and how long that might take. But it also applies to smaller details, such as being able to advise a client where to park and knowing the best route to the courtroom.

    Simply put, the act of visualizing and planning allows you to remove unknowns. And when you eliminate the uncertainty of an unknown, you remove another piece of doubt that can erode your confidence.

  2. Don’t just plan your approach; stress test it
    Putting yourself through the paces and poking holes in your strategy is not exactly revolutionary advice. But it is important to test and evaluate your work early and often.

    “Early and often” is key, as catching errors en masse near the end of your preparation can be demoralizing, whereas catching issues in draft form and dealing with them early in the process will feel energizing and confidence-boosting.

    Start by bouncing your approach off a colleague when you can. They may be able to spot pitfalls you aren’t seeing.

    In addition to consulting with others, you can now take advantage of new technology to detect and correct the weak spots in your strategy.

    If you have access to Westlaw Edge, you can use the predictive intelligence of KeyCite Overruling Risk to run the citations you’re relying upon through the wringer. Likewise, Westlaw Edge Quick Check can examine the strength of your arguments and identify any weak points you may have overlooked.

The confidence balance: Adding confidence to your reputation without appearing arrogant

A confident reputation is not something you can fake. True confidence, the sort that will build your brand, is earned through quality work.

But keep in mind, nobody likes a blowhard. There are assertive yet mannerly ways you can put that confidence to work for your brand.

  • Interacting with clients. Bring your clients into the fold. Tell them about your vision. Show them why you are confident by sharing what you know and how you learned it. Demonstrating that you combine your personal insight with data from analytics tools to develop a strategy unique to their needs can be particularly powerful. Showing confidence backed by knowledge and sophisticated practices helps your clients feel informed and cared for. This sets the stage for a strong bond throughout the attorney-client relationship and beyond.
  • Interacting with other attorneys. Give credit where credit is due. When you have a win to celebrate, share the accolades. If it was a colleague who helped, heap praise upon them. If an insight paved the way to a breakthrough, celebrate the insight, as opposed to your ability to find it. Celebrating in a way that shares the success with others shows far more confidence than bragging about yourself.

The big picture

In closing, there is an undeniable connection between your confidence and your reputation as a lawyer. Whether they show it or not, your peers, your clients, and the judges you appear before are all watching you and forming an opinion. Your confidence, and the way you demonstrate it will have an intrinsic connection to the way they perceive you.

At some point soon, someone will ask these people about attorneys they know. Make sure your name comes up for the right reasons.

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