Efficient Reputation Destruction

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Someone registers the domain yourlawfirm-sucks.com. Another lawyer posts their response to your c & d letter online. People leave bad reviews of you on Google Places, Avvo or LawyerRatingz. Disgruntled clients tweet, comment and status update about what a lousy job you did for them. Deserved or not, the internet makes reputation destruction very efficient.

I just finished reading Avinash Kaushik’s Provocative Ideas: Brand Destruction is Insanely Efficient Now. Beware! Needless to say (but worth saying), Avinash is a pretty smart guy. And while his article focuses on customers and companies, his observations are equally, if not more, applicable to lawyers and clients.

Silent Brush Fires

And as Avinash observes, while the big public mistakes can have disastrous consequences, the small, everyday, invisible gaffes can be as or even more destructive:

Recently, I told 20 people that Nikon’s site is slow and profoundly sub-optimal on mobile. (Guess what I had in my hand when I saw their sexy ad on TV? A mobile device!) Now these 20 people will tell 20 others – or 200 others. Today, even a single disgruntled or annoyed consumer has the ability to extend the reach of her message exponentially. This is the kind of “silent” but still highly efficient brand destruction that is occurring every day. And if it should begin happening to you, you and your company may not only have no control over it, you may not even be aware of what’s happening.

Usually, you will be aware of your bigger, more public screw-ups. Which, in the very least, may afford you the opportunity to respond. But the day-to-day client slights, in aggregation, can have a much worse impact on your reputation. And even worse, you’ll probably never even know about them.

Speed & Distance Kill

Compared to today, the speed at which communication traveled in the past was sluggish at best. Get a letter from counsel or a client, and they might not expect to receive a response for days or weeks. Receive a voice message, and you might think you have at least twenty-four hours. But the expectations are quickly changing. And it’s not just a matter of speed.

The barriers in terms or distance and access that used to separate us are greatly eroding. We “see” more of each other than we ever have. And while this access creates great opportunity, it should also remind us of the importance of authenticity. As Avinash suggest:

Never has it been more important for a brand to live its values, walk the talk, deliver what it promises, avoid saying stupid stuff – all while remaining real and accessible to today’s digital and offline consumers.

And for those who have never walked their talk, the internet can be a painfully bright blast of sunshine.

Healthy Boundaries

No matter how hard you strive to provide excellent client service and increase your competence, you simply can’t please all of the people all of the time.

And no matter how you package or value it, as a lawyer, you sell a finite resource, your time. Which creates real challenges in a world where expectations about response time and access are rising exponentially.

Nonetheless, in order to be effective, there need to be some healthy boundaries between you and your clients.

To me, it seems that the best you can do is to set proper expectations, listen and exercise good old-fashioned integrity.

It also helps to be efficient.

As more and more lawyers are learning, completely ignoring the demands for better communication and increased access, is likely to lead to a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship. And whether this leads to a bad review, a grievance, or worse, there can be serious reputation consequences for being slow and creating too much distance.

Borrowing from Avinash, “What are you doing to protect your professional reputation in a world where the distance between you and your clients approaches zero?”

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