Corienne came to retain me when she’d been knee-deep in her courtroom divorce for a couple of years and finally got fed up with her fancy, high-priced lawyer, who didn’t seem capable of ever getting it finished. We grew close during her horribly traumatic litigation (which I won’t go into here) and remained close for a very long time after I finalized her divorce. One August, my husband and I stayed with her three weekends in a row when we travelled to South Florida for family and friends’ events, one of which was, admittedly, her nephew’s bar mitzvah.
But, eventually, we grew apart, with her living in Ft. Lauderdale and me in Tampa. It actually got to the point that I didn’t tell her when I’d be coming down; it seemed our get togethers were just too forced and, when it came to conversation, living in different communities, we’d run out of commonalities. It was more painful to force the friendship, I thought, than to let it go. It had run its natural course.
Corienne had a cousin named Bob Blackman, about whom she had told me, a real estate lawyer who’d run afoul of the law, embezzling money. We talked about him when it was appropriate to whatever conversation we were having, but she had not stayed in touch with him so, in the ten years that she and I were close, his name came up on only a few occasions.
I was in South Florida, presenting Marketing Your Practice to a group in Coral Gables and, taking the opportunity at lunch to meet with several of my cohorts. I was sitting in the Seasons 52 with Jerry Poliakoff, waiting for the others to arrive, when a man I didn’t know approached the table, apologized for interrupting, and greeted Jerry. Apparently, they hadn’t seen each other for some time and the gentleman just wanted to say “Hello.”
When he walked away, Jerry spoke quietly. “That was Bob Blackman. He’s a local real estate lawyer who got into some trouble a few years back for embezzlement. Not really a friend of mine.”
Reputation is essential in all professions, but, in the legal community, it carries even more weight. When we stand in front of a judge and tell her what happened, even an accidental misrepresentation can cause her to question any claims we might make going forward in every case we bring before her. If we’re unsure of the facts, we must find out.
However, the importance of our reputation doesn’t just extend to the court. I review motions or proposed orders from opposing counsels every day. Most of the time, I keep a red pen in hand to correct their grammar as I read. If a friend has a case with them or is looking for a new associate, I will tell them who lacks attention to detail. Unfortunately for Bob Blackman, ethical concerns leave a permanent stain on an attorney’s reputation that is hard to overcome. I heard about his reputation through his cousin Corienne. Jerry heard about Bob’s reputation through other professionals but was quick to declare that they had no common associations.
The importance of maintaining a professional (and ethical) reputation hit me when I went to my hotel room that night and texted Corienne because it was so circumstantial that I would actually meet the guy. Strangely, she asked me to call her right away.
But not because of her cousin. She had just that day finally met with the estate planning lawyer I had referred to her ten years earlier. I had not known Torie personally when I recommended her to Corienne, but I knew of her and of her talented services. However, Corienne wanted to tell me about her meeting with Torie that afternoon.
Strangely, Torie was one of the other professionals I had had lunch with that same day. I had recently come to know her and worked closely with her in one of my professional associations, but I had completely forgotten that I had recommended her to Corienne.
Sometimes a referral will contact you ten years later. They may forget who referred them to you, but they won’t forget your reputation. I often create nicknames for people, and, when I forget their names, I remember their associations. I often speak about creating a profile that draws attention within your community.
Strive to project professionalism with every motion that you write and with every professional you meet. Polish your profile with professionalism.