Credibility - and how to lose it - Giles Watson
Credibility, trust
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Credibility – and how to lose it

For solicitors, credibility is everything.

‘The quality of being convincing or believable’ is a key component of trust, and can also be a differentiator – with more ‘credible’ lawyers being well placed to win work against their competitors.

But what makes a lawyer ‘credible’? Ask many lawyers and they would first mention the things that they believe make them a professional – expertise, experience, qualifications, competence, technical ability. They might also mention other attributes that go to make up their ‘expert’ status, such as publications, speaking engagements, committee memberships and more.

Are these things important in building professional credibility? Of course they are – absolutely!

But solicitors need to build credibility in a number of areas and too much of a focus on their technical ability (their legal skills and knowledge) can actually detract from their credibility as a service provider and trusted advisor.

Where solicitors risk losing credibility is in talking ‘technical’ in client conversations. Solicitors often assume that by discussing legal issues in complex detail they are demonstrating their expertise and thus building their credibility. For a client, however, technical expertise is assumed before most substantive matter discussions: what the client is really looking for is a solicitor that seems credible in terms of understanding their needs and providing solutions.

Here, technical talk about the complexity of the legal issues is a frustrating distraction, is seen as self-serving behaviour on the part of the solicitor, and raises doubts in the clients mind as to whether a solicitor is really focused on the clients needs in terms of practical solutions and service delivery.

Its really a question of place and timing. Yes – building up your ‘expert status’ is great for credibility on your website and LinkedIn page, but client conversations need a different approach, where the focus is on the client, not you. Here are some tips:

Building credibility as a service provider

  • Be prepared: do research on the client and their situation before the meeting
  • Listen more than you talk. Talk less than the client.
  • Ask great questions that demonstrate your understanding of the client’s needs.
  • Identify and discuss the personal/commercial priorities behind the immediate legal challenge
  • Talk the client’s language
  • Find ways to demonstrate your expertise, other than talking about it
  • Keep your promises, even the little ones
  • Identify and offer/provide ‘value adds’
  • Be willing to admit that you don’t know things and admit your weaknesses – be honest and open!
  • Never lie or brag



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