'Super' Benefits of Becoming A Thought Leader

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Lawyers love credentials that symbolize professional recognition and accomplishment, partly because credentials are evidence of effort and success, and the lawyer personality has a strong inclination toward both.

Another reason is purely practical: There are nearly 1.2 million practicing attorneys in this country, and differentiating yourself in such a crowded market is a major challenge. Specialized credentials can help a lawyer stand out.

A number of organizations try to do this by means of various "peer rankings" that purport to evaluate a lawyer's skill and ethics. Some have been around for years; more have sprung up recently. Various state bar associations have questioned these designations, particularly the ones that denote a lawyer as being "super."

The concern is that peer-review designations have the potential to lead an unwary consumer to believe that the lawyers so described are, by virtue of the manufactured title, superior to their colleagues who practice in the same areas of law, thus creating an unjustified expectation about results.

All "super"-latives aside, helping attorneys differentiate themselves to those who need their services does not mislead prospects; it helps prospects identify what they want and need. It is one thing to regulate for truth and fairness in promotional statements; it is another to ensure that hyperbole does not create false expectations.

That explains why the American Bar Association's Commentary 3 on Rule 7.1 covering communications about an attorney's services stipulates that in order to keep "an unsubstantiated comparison of the lawyer's services … with [those] of other lawyers" from being misleading, it should be balanced by "an appropriate disclaimer or qualifying language [that] may preclude a finding that a statement is likely to create unjustified expectations or otherwise mislead a prospective client."

An entirely different dynamic is created, however, when a lawyer specifically creates a reputation as a leader in a given field. That means a scenario in which, for example, an individual charged with a criminal offense follows this process: 1) I need to get a lawyer; 2) I need to get a criminal defense lawyer; 3) I need to get the specific lawyer I have seen on local television or read as the author of a newspaper column or blog.

In that example, the client goes from knowing that he needs a lawyer all the way to knowing that he needs, by name, the "thought leader" and top performer in the field. A thought leader is someone who has evidenced his capabilities, his knowledge of the subject involved and the leading stature of his expertise.

Becoming a thought leader is a process: write articles for local and national publications in your field; write a commercially published book, as the equivalent of third-party endorsement; speak at conferences; create teleseminars and videos; conduct podcasts; refine and improve your website; send out an electronic newsletter.

Those are only a few of the channels of communication. The channel of ideas distribution is not magic. Pursue as many as possible, because you never know which one will spur that phone call to engage you.

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