Image and Credibility – It’s Not About What Tech, It’s About How You Use It

“The car defines the man.” I never really bought into that saying or others like it. I guess I’ve seen too many guys driving cars around that they thought made them look cool, but in truth made them look silly. Yes, this is a personal opinion, but I strongly suspect that my response to some of these guys over the years was more in line with what others thought than not.

Now you might be asking yourself, “what does all this have to do with attorneys?” Plenty. Consider what attorneys are doing or not doing with technology and the Internet. For starters, websites for any business is a given. If a business doesn’t have one, they’re off my radar because I haven’t looked up a number in the phone book or turned to the yellow pages for information in years. The first thing we do at our house when the new phone books come is put them in the recycle bin. Who needs the added clutter? Not me. If you think we’re unusual in this regard, ask around. I have, and trust me, we’re not alone.

I take this idea even further, however, as not having something of a dynamic web presence in this day and age says something. To me, it suggests that whoever is running whatever business I’m researching is someone who feels intimidated by technology. If that’s true, then maybe other concerns such as competency, meaning one’s ability to deliver whatever the service is, may also be a problem. In other words, if they can’t build a decent website, how in the world can they handle my complicated matter? I sometimes also start to wonder about their financial stability. Websites are dirt cheap, so why haven’t they made the investment in developing a strong web presence? Certainly these are assumptions on my part; but when people of all ages regularly post to blogs, have an extensive Facebook presence, text and even tweet all day long, I certainly am not going to waste my time checking out a business that hasn’t invested in developing something more than posting the equivalent of their yellow page ad on the web and calling that their website. I call that silly. There are too many other businesses out there that have positioned themselves to get on my radar anytime I wish to look and Google has made that downright instantaneous.

I do recognize a certain inconsistency here. In a way I appear to be saying that a car (having a dynamic web presence) does in fact define the man; but no, I am really starting this discussion by saying that to be in the game in today’s world, you need to have at least a basic mode of transportation. My true interest is in how far does this go; or in keeping with my analogy, how do you avoid looking silly or worse as you invest ever more heavily in technology and a web presence?

I just chuckled a few years back at how hot tweeting was at an ABA TechShow. I will admit that I’m something of a tech geek and think the latest and greatest gadget or online app is pretty cool. In fact I was pretty disappointed when the Surface Pro 128 gig tablet sold out within two or three hours post launch! This doesn’t mean, however, that I try to push to the front of the line and be the first to jump in every time a new gadget comes to market. The lawyer/risk manager side of me always kicks in and I start asking questions like “Just how reliable and secure is this device or application?” or “What might the fallout be if something goes wrong?” Hot things like the iPhone, Google Docs, and Dropbox have had to deal with security concerns due in no small part to their success in the marketplace. Twitter had a number of well publicized security breaches as they struggled to rapidly scale up in response to their tremendous success. Please understand that I am not trying to pick on any one company or product; this is about encouraging you to think through the implementation process.

It’s so easy to believe that using the latest and greatest means you’re now presenting a cutting edge image and have an advantage over all the competition. I equate it to driving a hot Porsche. This “Look at us, we’re better. We get tech,” image goes into the ditch, however, when a client confidence is lost due to a missing unlocked iPhone or your client identity is stolen due to poor computer security practices on your end. Let me share a story to underscore the point. Some time ago ALPS was hit with a large amount of spam that turned out to be coming from one of our insured’s servers. Our IT folks certainly let the firm know and shared a little advice with them on how they might remedy the situation. As one who was aware of what had happened, personally I would never take legal work to that firm. At the end of the day, they didn’t get tech and that leads me to naturally ask “what else don’t they get?” When there are so many other choices, I don’t have the time, interest, or need to seek that answer. I will move on and so would others.

The interplay between reputation, image, credibility, and technology is a complex one. While my initial reaction to seeing a good friend drive up in a hot car would be “very cool,” when the car is later driven into a snow bank because it was too much car for that friend, I would quietly chuckle (assuming no one was hurt!). You see, it’s not about the car, it’s about what one does with it. There will always be the next latest and greatest device or application. Look at them, every one of them, if you wish. Just be smart about what you decide to purchase and use. Think through the “what ifs” because our ethical rules are going to be in play. If a confidence is lost, if information is corrupted or stolen due to poor implementation, it is going to be your creditability, reputation, and yes even your license that may be at stake. Remember that it can take years to build a good reputation and garner deep trust. All this can be lost in seconds given the right misstep. Twitter has its place, but it’s not for everyone. Regardless of the technology under consideration, the question you should be asking is, “does the technology have a proper place for you?” It’s ok to say no and wait to see how things shake out for the early adopters. You can always jump in later. In the long run, first isn’t always best because sometimes the car turns out to be more than you could handle.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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One comment on “Image and Credibility – It’s Not About What Tech, It’s About How You Use It

  • Great post, Mark. When I was building my website, one of the first things I did was look at other attorney websites. What did I like? What didn’t speak to me? And I was shocked to discover the number of solo/small firm attorneys that don’t have websites. If they did, they looked old, were badly out of date (i.e., last blog post was from 2 years ago), and were downright boring.

    Not to mention they all look the same. After reviewing about 20 sites, I couldn’t tell one firm from another. They all blended together in a sea of navy blue, generic legal imagery, and bad bios. How is a client supposed to know you are the right attorney for them if you look just like your competitor?

    I know that there are marketing and advertising constraints put on us, but we can do better.

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