Consideration for Your Reputation?

One day I was slightly rude to someone at Starbucks. I was busy in my work, and when a woman talked to me, I really didn’t want to be bothered and I let it show. It turns out she was an attorney’s friend’s mother-in-law, and in a couple days it got back to me that she was taken aback by our interaction. The next time I saw her, I apologized. Luckily, she cut me some slack and assumed I was just stressed. But I had obviously made a somewhat negative impression on her, and I didn’t even realize it.

In a day where people are social media paranoid, where employers force interviewees to log into their Facebook profiles at the interview so they can see the real time shenanigans of their potential employee, where the decisions you made before you “grew up” could potentially haunt you indefinitely online, people are forgetting that real life live interactions pave reputations as well. And not only does your real world conduct represent yourself, but if you work with a firm in some capacity, you are a reflection of them, too.

Here are some things I now consider in my daily encounters that prove just as influential, if not more, than tweets or status updates:

– It’s a small world, after all. The legal industry is small, especially in Boston. Even when standing in line for coffee or waiting for the T, if you happen to make a bad impression on someone, and they hear you work for a certain firm, you have now just transferred their bad impression of you to a bad impression of the firm. Totally not fair, but it’s exactly what happens. Just think about how many times you have viewed people as the face of where they work.

– People talk. That person who now thinks both you and your firm are jerks because you cut them off in line at Starbucks will tell anyone who strikes up a conversation about lawyers that your firm sucks and hires poorly. And when that person seeks another attorney, they will make sure to mention their disgust to the new lawyer as well – you can pretty much bet on it. And so now the other attorney thinks you and your firm are jerks, too, if he didn’t already, and thus the story continues. I find that most attorneys respect each other, even though they might disagree or be professional adversaries. So in the chain of events, you may have just started to tarnish a professional relationship that existed before you even knew what a tort was. Shame on you.

– Speak no evil. Personally, I try my best to not speak badly of anyone. It makes me really uncomfortable, it looks bad, and it is catty and unprofessional. I also feel very awkward when others speak badly about people to me. The old adage is true: if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything. If asked about a prior job, and your experience was not a positive one, you can say something neutral, like, “I learned skills at X that I can apply across a broad range of disciplines,” etc. You get the point; that’s pretty boilerplate cover letter lingo. The great thing about saying something like that is that you aren’t lying because (if you have a braincell) you will have learned something from that bad experience, and you can [and will, hopefully] apply that lesson at your future job.

– It starts in law school. All of the people you meet in law school are potential associates, partners, adversaries, employers etc. Many professors (at least at New England Law) also work in the field, so there is a chance you may see them again when you practice. If you were “that guy” in school, that’s how people will remember you. There’s a chance that your attitude will be different in practice, but it will be hard to convince people that you have changed if they knew you as a know-it-all back in the day. If you were a jerk in school, you’ll have to prove to others why they would want to work with you in practice, whereas if you were pleasant and respectful in school, those who already know you and have heard about you will want to work with you and recommend you.

(For some cynical-but kinda true-hilarity, check out Bitter Lawyer‘s take on The Ten Students You Meet in Law School.)

If you are actively involved in the field and are working hard, and marketing yourself, it’s likely that your reputation is preceding you already. I am a bit of a cynic by nature, but I have learned to tone it down and scowl less and smile more. I think of my Starbucks interaction often when I am around random people, and remind myself that I have one chance to make a first impression, and I don’t want it to be one for which I will apologize later, again. I strongly suggest you take this to heart as well, dear reader, because you really never know who you are going to meet or when, where, and how you will meet them.




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