Archive for February, 2016

“Trust Me.” Every lawyer’s need for personal credibility

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, effectively captures the ideal of personal credibility. “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” A skilled lawyer, Finch takes on an impossible case, exposes the prosecution’s star witness to be a liar and gracefully illustrates to the jury why race should not be a factor in their deliberations. Despite the unfair conviction and subsequent lynching of his client, Atticus Finch maintains his personal credibility. This ability is fundamental to being a successful lawyer.

The essence of personal credibility

Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Personal credibility requires both trustworthiness and expertise. Trustworthiness includes an established reliability, which generally comes from telling the truth. Expertise includes credentials, certifications, or quality of prior experience. Personal credibility is the power to inspire belief. Personal credibility can be enhanced by personal dynamism (charisma) and physical attractiveness. Credibility means what you say is capable of being believed. Credibility means what you do inspires belief and confidence. Each action must be underpinned by authenticity. In other words, only promise what you can deliver.

Creating personal credibility

Sandy Allgeier, in her book, The Personal Credibility Factor: How to Get It, Keep It, and Get It Back (If You’ve Lost It), emphasizes that personal credibility is “about respect, trust, and being believable.” In other words, credibility is about actions. What you do forms other people’s opinions of you, shapes their relationships with you, and helps them decide whether to trust and respect you. “Our impressions, thoughts, and opinions are constantly being formed and reformed, most often in our subconscious. For this reason, it is what people do that determines our belief, respect, and trust in them – it is what we all do that determines personal credibility.” Keep your commitments. Return phone calls. Meet deadlines, especially those promised to others. Clients will appreciate your attention to small details like personalized emails or handwritten notes.

Communicating with credibility

Personal credibility is enhanced through consistent verbal and nonverbal communication. Credibility can be lost if you don’t keep your word, whether you have communicated it in writing or verbally. Listen and think before you speak. Effective listening can be one of your most influential tools. Observe and be very attentive to body language and nonverbal signals. Remember to be yourself. Joining the right clubs, travelling in the right circles, and attending high-profile events may cause you to try and be someone you are not. Instead, develop an expertise in a given area and be willing to share acquired knowledge with others.

Marketing with credibility

Client development is all about persuading people to like and trust you. Potential clients want personal credibility when retaining a lawyer. Professionalism plays a key role. Make sure your image and appearances, from presentations to business cards to Web pages, convey excellence and credibility. Do your research and know how to deploy personal details that will strike a chord with potential clients. Use personal history to find common interests. Sharing critical details such as school affiliations, your hometown, or even a common personal achievement helps create personal credibility.

Winning with credibility

Successful trial lawyers know that when delivering their opening statement, their personal credibility is on the line. You are telling the jury what you believe the evidence will show. In many ways, it is a promise you make to the jury. By closing arguments, you can tell the jury, based on the evidence presented, you kept your promise and your opponent did not. Jurors look to lawyers to tell how a case is progressing. If you are confident, well-prepared and well-organized you will create immediate credibility with jurors. Jurors will assume you would not have taken a case that didn’t have merit. As long as you maintain personal credibility, regardless of the circumstances, you will successfully influence jurors.

Ambrose Bierce, the famous American writer of the late 19th century, observed the following about character and credibility: “In each human heart are a tiger, a pig, an ass and a nightingale. Diversity of character is due to their unequal activity.” To create the personal credibility necessary to be successful, every lawyer would do well to keep their tiger and nightingale in balance with their pig and ass.