By Kali Hays
Any firm, be it a glossy multinational or a hyper-focused boutique, is likely to face a reputational slump at some point, but there’s no reason to let that slump become permanent.
Whether a lackluster reputation stems from difficulty breaking into a new practice area or a slip-up in attempting to stake a presence with a tough prospective client, there are ways to boost credibility with current and future clients if a firm is willing to put in some effort.
Here, Law360 looks at three ways a firm can manage a lagging reputation in an ever-changing legal landscape.
Be Honest and Authentic
It’s understandable that attorneys never want to make guarantees, but if a firm does lure a client with big talk and then doesn’t deliver, its reputation is surely going to suffer.
There’s a simple solution here: Be honest.
“Clients want to be given advice,” said Stuart Goldstein, a managing partner of Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP who has been with the firm since 1992. “They don’t want to be given a long soliloquy that ends with an uncertain outcome. It’s a challenge to communicate that in a nuanced business, but that’s what we’re paid for.”
Authenticity is something equally important for a firm to remember when dealing with a reputational issue. If a firm says it believes strongly in diversity, it should be diverse. If it says it cares about reducing poverty, it should be participating in pro bono work to that end.
Any firm that can be true to itself will have a much easier time relaying to current and prospective clients that they’ve hit upon a firm that will be true to them as well. And authenticity is not something only clients want, but something younger associates want as well.
“Younger Gen X-ers and millennials are all about authenticity,” Jonathan Fitzgarrald, founder of Equinox Strategy Partners, said. “Authenticity is number one when it comes to reputation management, you’ve got to be authentic and you have to demonstrate through your actions what the words say coming out of your mouth.”
Get New Associates in the Game
Another way to steel a reputation against whatever may come a firm’s way is to build a solid brand internally by bringing new associates into the fold sooner rather than later and providing them with media training and mentoring.
Hueston Hennigan LLP is a new firm that considers the development of its greenest associates paramount to its success and devotes a significant amount of time and resources to getting new associates straight to work, according to founding partner John Hueston.
He said the firm’s young recruits have “very little to zero experience on their feet,” but by ensuring trial work in their first year with the firm, they quickly transform into well-rounded assets for Hueston Hennigan and its clients.
“It creates a very loyal and energized team of associates and it also has impressed our clients because they know our teams have deep and unusual experience from top to bottom,” Hueston said.
This younger generation of lawyers is also more mobile than ever, and they’re not willing to work silently until they’re anointed a voice by older partners. Younger associates have a voice now and they want to use it, according to Fitzgarrald.
“Young Gen X-ers and millennials love to engage [and] these are young bright professionals who want to be part of the practice,” he said. “[Firms should] at least start to expose them to best practices in client development, media relations and target marketing.”
In addition to creating a sense of loyalty and value in younger associates, getting solid experience and being trained in communications also means a firm has a more dynamic and capable bench, which is paramount for attracting clients and for improving or maintaining a reputation.
When associates are confident in their role within a firm and capable of communicating a solid message, that means they can also go out into the world and represent the firm to current and potential clients and impress referral sources through networking. Personal contact is often the best way to build and maintain a reputation.
But networking these days does not have to mean a hotel banquet room swarming with name tags and business card confetti.
Fitzgarrald urges his law firm clients to have their associates and partners take part in group activities they enjoy, from surfing to wine tastings, because client opportunities are everywhere.
“People have such disparate interests that once you tap into those, the business will follow, period,” he said. “But If it feels like a chore, you’re not going to look forward to it and the likelihood that you’re going to have a good time and have it be a productive marketing activity is very little.”
Another way for a firm to gain positive exposure is through pursuing and succeeding with high-profile clients, a strategy Hueston said has been “key” to developing Hueston Hennigan’s reputation.
“It was part of our plan to be selective about the types of clients we attempted to locate and pitch ourselves to, so that we would be able to dedicate our more limited resources to cases of high impact, both public and private,” Hueston said.
This article was originally published by Law360.