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How to Build Trust and Credibility in a Cynical World

To strangers, you are just another suit. For the most part, consumers (including jurors) have a negative perception of lawyers, and even your warm smile, charming personality and good looks won’t change a thing. The odds are stacked against you before you say “hi”.

But there’s one thing that can build instant credibility and trust with total strangers: sharing a personal story that explains why you do what you do. Sharing your innermost feelings with strangers (and even jurors) shows you’re a real human being and just like them, you have fears, failures and mistakes. There is nothing more effective at building trust and credibility.

One Lawyer’s Powerful “WHY” Story

Louisiana personal injury lawyer, Keith Magness, Esq., shares the heart-wrenching story of a phone call informing him of a car wreck involving his mother and father. Keith rushed to the hospital and when he got there, he was told that his mother did not survive. Keith was not ready for his mother to be taken from his life.

As a young, inexperienced lawyer, Keith had little idea what to expect in the wrongful death lawsuit. Through his experience handling the wrongful death claim, Keith saw the dirty underbelly of insurance companies and their go-for-broke strategy designed to minimize (and avoid) payment of legitimate claims. This deny-at-all-costs experience with insurance companies fueled Keith’s ambition to do one thing: protect the rights of those negligently injured in car wrecks.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Simon Sinek, “Start with Why

Keith created a video of his “WHY” story and shared it on the home page of his website and social media. Because he shared his “WHY” story, clients often tell Keith that they feel a personal connection with him that does not exist with other lawyers. The “WHY” video creates credibility and rapport with clients and continues to bring new clients to Keith’s firm with high value cases. Keith will tell you that sharing his “WHY” story was the best thing he’s ever done.

A Story of WHY that Needs to Be Told

About 10 years ago, someone happened to pose the following question at a partners’ meeting at my old law firm in Albany, NY: “Why do you practice law?” One by one, each of the lawyers took a turn giving the same seemingly stock answer: “I love the thrill of the courtroom” or “I get a rush out of cross examination”. When my turn came, I reflected on the question for a moment and then shared my WHY story.

In the late 90’s, a senior partner gave me the assignment of handling a wreck that caused horrendous physical injuries and severe brain damage for our client, Dale. Every time I visited Dale at his home, he did not appear to recognize me due to the severity of his brain damage and sadly, the bulk of his day was confined to staring blankly at the TV. Handling such a case was an enormous responsibility for a young, inexperienced lawyer and truth be told, I made more than my share of mistakes.

When you tell people why you’re doing what you’re doing, remarkable things happen.

Simon Sinek, “Start with Why

About a week before trial, the case settled for a modest sum and I dwelled on the thought that the outcome would have been better had I done better. Days later, Dale came to our law firm to sign the settlement papers. As I walked into the conference room to greet him, Dale got out of his chair, walked over and gave me a bear hug. As I stood there awkwardly not knowing what to say or do, Dale softly whispered 3 words that I will never forget, “I love you”.

That, my friends, is WHY I practice law. I don’t practice for the love of money or the thrill of the courtroom. I practice to make a profound impact on the lives of severely disabled persons—this is what gets me out of bed and gives me the courage to go to trial.

What is Your WHY?

Each of us has our own WHY and your WHY will almost certainly be different from everyone else. Once you define why you practice law, take a chance by sharing your story. Hire a videographer to videotape your WHY story and share it on the home page of your website and social media and hire employees who believe what you believe.

All great leaders have clarity of why, an undying belief in a purpose or cause bigger than themselves.

Simon Sinek, “Start with Why

Your clients will appreciate that you’re just like them–a real human being with fears, weaknesses and vulnerabilities–and in the process, you just might create something that is especially elusive for lawyers: trust and credibility. There is nothing more valuable.

photo credit: tantek IMG_1072 via photopin (license)

Leave a comment below telling me what surprised, inspired or taught you the most (I personally respond to every comment). And if you disagree with my take on running a personal injury law firm, or have a specific, actionable tip, I’d love to hear from you.