If you plan on having a successful career as a lawyer, you had better understand some things about trust.
How is it created? How is it destroyed?
Who trusts you? Who do you trust?
What types of things do you do at your practice to earn, nurture and solidify trust?
Admittedly, for many of you, this post may be a statement of the obvious.
Build trust? Just be honest and do the right thing. Case closed.
For you, building trust is second-nature. It’s the cornerstone of your practice and your life. You are very sensitive to how you and your firm interface with clients, prospective clients and the public in general. It’s just how things are done. I encourage you folks to share your experiences with those who haven’t yet made trust building an imperative. How has the destruction of trust impacted your life? War stories welcome.
I suspect that there are some of you who may have an anecdotal sense about trust in your practice, but haven’t viewed your practice, as well as, the marketing of your practice, through a critical trust lens. Hopefully, this post will motivate you to consider whether you’re walking your trust talk.
Then there will be those that think this talk of trust is pure hot-air. I don’t expect that I will persuade you here, but I’m very interested in hearing arguments against.
What is Trust?
My copy of Webster’s Unabridged reads in part:
trust (trust), n. 1. reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
2. confident expectation of something; hope.
4. a person on whom or thing on which one relies.
6. the obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed: a position of trust.
18. to believe.
As a lawyer, people put their trust in you every single day. Clients trust you to be competent. They rely on you to put their interests above all others.
In exchange for the privilege to practice law, to represent the interests of others, you swore an oath to, among other things, be trustworthy. But trust isn’t created with a single oath. It isn’t built in days and weeks, but months and years. It is also extremely fragile and can be completely destroyed in seconds.
Hopefully, you began building trust well-before taking your oath. And in fact, in some ways, choosing to become a lawyer may, in and of itself, damaged your reputation for trustworthiness.
Who do people trust?
Recently, the AARP Bulletin & SSRS conducted a poll on the subject of trust.
1,022 people ages 18+ were asked: How much do you trust the following? And of respondents who answered “a great deal,” here was the breakdown:
So, at least according to this study and depending on the age of your clients, 31% to 38% have “a great deal” of trust in you.
And it should go without saying (but based on previous Lawyerist commenters I’ll say it anyway), that this is just one small study and may not be representative of your clients (so, you should ask them).
And this should mean something to all of us. Regardless of age, at least 6 out of 10 respondents have something less than a great deal of trust in their lawyers.
Shoot, lawyers did worse than bankers, local police and religious leaders. That’s seems messed up.
And remember, these respondents were answering the question: How much do you trust your lawyer?
I would speculate that these numbers would be significantly worse if they were asked how much they trust lawyers, generally.
Who is to blame?
You probably have a lot of ideas about who is to blame for these statistics. Some of you will undoubtedly blame the insurance industry. Others, the so-called liberal media. A few of you will undoubtedly blame legal marketers.
But we know who is ultimately to blame. It’s the lawyers themselves.
It happens every time a lawyer fails to take the time to properly explain something to a client. It happens every time a client’s call or email goes days, weeks or even months without response. It happens when lawyers fail to properly temper client expectations about realistic outcomes. It happens every time a lawyer takes on a client dealing with a matter that they can’t handle competently. It happens every time a lawyer lies or misleads.
And yes, sometimes it happens even when lawyers do everything reasonably imaginable to earn a client’s trust.
Trust & Business Development
And while perhaps it is the earning of a client’s trust that is most essential to a successful practice, maybe only slightly less important is earning the trust of everyone else.
You see, trust isn’t a part-time endeavor. You don’t get to only be trustworthy from 8a to 10p, or whatever hours you devote to your practice. You can’t pick and choose with whom you want to be trustworthy. It’s a culture. A way of doing things.
And those that have a reputation for earning trust, will typically be rewarded with more business. Not always, but most of the time. And those that are reckless with trust, will typically have a more difficult time earning more business. Again, not always, but most of the time.
So, the most important thing you can do to develop more business is to spend some time thinking about trust and acting trustworthy. But not just thinking about it passively, philosophically or academically, but rather, practically, systematically and intentionally.
What policies and procedures do you have in place at your firm to earn trust? What mechanisms do you have in place to measure how well these policies and procedures are being carried out by you, your partners, your associates and your support personnel?
What kind of “trust feedback” are you receiving? Are you listening and responding?
What policies and procedures do you have in place to assess the trustworthiness of others? Potential Clients? Colleagues? Other people who refer business to you?
Trust & the Internet
I suspect that many of you who will read this will scoff heartily at the idea that trust can be built on the internet. After all, “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
And there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of internet noise is completely unreliable.
But the truth is, more and more internet dogs will be found out. You see, we’re just at the tip of this internet iceberg. And as has happened with every form of human communication, including language, we will get better at detecting who and what to listen to, subscribe to, follow and trust. Yes, the process will likely take place more slowly than we’d like. Yes, mistakes will be made, just as they have in the past. And hopefully, we’ll learn from them.
But if you’re going to use the internet to earn more business, everything you do should tie back to earning trust, including things like:
As Sam has demonstrated, there is no shortage of reasons why your blog sucks. And many of these specific reasons can be dropped into a more general bucket:
Your blog sucks because it lacks trust.
Yes, be honest and do the right thing. That should be entry level. But take a more critical look at the way you do things at your firm, including how you market it. Ask
yourself others how you’re doing in the trust department. If you’re failing there, it might just be your single biggest obstacle to growing your practice.