Protecting your reputation

By John Allison

In the practice of law your reputation will precede you. People will make assumptions about your credibility and about your skill as a lawyer based on your reputation and the reputation of the people with whom you associate. In addition to having a solid reputation for your lawyering skills, it is essential to have a reputation as an ethical and trustworthy professional. 

A lawyer who develops a reputation for engaging in misleading or unethical behavior will lose credibility with opposing counsel, with judges, and with other people the lawyer is trying to persuade.

Ultimately, clients and colleagues may distance themselves from a lawyer with a reputation for questionable behavior, particularly if the lawyer’s misbehavior is documented in a reported decision or a news article that can readily be found on the Internet. Remember that information posted on the Internet can be found for a very long time.

Lawyers who maintain high ethical standards for their behavior and practice law as ethical professionals will enhance their reputation. In addition to complying with the ethical rules, they take personal moral responsibility for their professional behavior. There are some clients ethical lawyers will not represent, and some things that ethical lawyers simply will not do. 

Honesty and personal integrity provide the foundation for one’s reputation as a trustworthy lawyer. Honesty can be summed up in two words: Never lie. A lie will catch up with you sooner or later and will undermine your credibility.

Sometimes the attorney-client privilege or tactical considerations will prevent you from telling the whole truth. For example, in a judicial settlement conference you cannot disclose your client’s “bottom line” to the judge without violating the attorney-client privilege. In a situation in which you cannot tell the whole truth, choose your words carefully and make sure what you do say is absolutely true. 

Personal integrity has two aspects. The first is a strong moral compass. A person with integrity will not engage in behavior that is inconsistent with sound moral and ethical values.  The second aspect of integrity is internal consistency. The words, actions and moral values of a person with integrity are aligned with each other. There is no disconnect between the person’s values, what the person says, and what the person does or plans to do.

 Protect your reputation. It will be one of your most valuable assets in the practice of law.

John Allison is a professional career coach backed by years of experience as a successful lawyer. He is the founder of The Coach for Lawyers and author of "The Art of Practicing Law: A Practical Guide for Lawyers."