Steve Matthews, one of the few law marketers I
tolerate respect, writes in his guest post “Is ‘humble’ in your marketing repertoire?”:
When it comes to marketing, lawyers are commonly encouraged to focus on the concept of expertise. Specifically, they’re advised to become the “go-to expert” in their chosen field, or even to become (a term I’ve used myself in the past) a “thought leader.” It’s a fine idea, but there’s a problem: some lawyers have taken this advice literally and filled their marketing materials with those exact terms and phrases.
“John Smith is the nation’s foremost expert on intellectual property,” their websites proclaim. Or, “Cindy Johnson is widely considered a thought leader in the area of medical malpractice claims.” Quite often, the reader’s instant reaction to these declarations is: “According to whom, precisely? Who decided you were a thought leader? Please tell me you didn’t create that title yourself.”
Matthews may be preaching, but the law marketing choir is largely deaf-mute; preferring to worship the unholy Trinity:
“In the name of the Flawger, the SEO and the Holey Ghost-Writer. Amen.”
It is fortifying to see a law marketer speak out against unethical marketing and social media credential fraud. It is also gratifying that there are some former-lawyers-turned-law-marketers who have not forsaken the ethical dimensions of lawyering when promoting their lawyer or law firm clients.
And here’s the rub. This is one of those unwritten rules that appears to require writing out from time to time: expert status should almost always be bestowed by others, not claimed by you. This is especially true of the word “expert,” a dangerous term that in some jurisdictions is forbidden unless the specific title of “expert” has been granted by a lawyers’ governing body.
Given that most lawyers are able to write around such a term and its ethical considerations, the better question is probably: when exactly is it acceptable to toot your own horn? My suggestion is that you can get away with asserting “expert” status only if you can back it up immediately after making the claim. Two acceptable examples would be the commercial messages delivered on your website’s practice pages and lawyer profile pages. You can also conceivably use it in the biography at the end of an authored article (because you’ve just demonstrated it in the preceding content), but the list of acceptable placements drops dramatically from there.
Understandably, Matthews is attempting to downplay the shameless self-promotion and self-adulation that is rampant on the Internet, Twitter and Facebook. However, I disagree with his colloquial use of the term “expert” for legal marketing purposes (see my post “Are You A Legal Expert? Really?“).
Consider the heretical proposition that legal ethics is not what a lawyer may or may not do, but what a lawyer should or should not do. The deontological approach to lawyer regulation may well be entrenched within a profession that has been indoctrinated by legal positivism and rule-oriented governance, but as Hamlet said, “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Humility is a trait that everyone claims to possess, but few actually own.
Speaking of humility, a colleague of mine forwarded a link to a law website that is stentorian in its promotional strategy:
DR. AJIT SINGH SAROHA, Ph. D.
BARRISTER & SOLICITOR
“the lawyer who knows it all… Law, Liability and Insurance”
Dr. Ajit Singh Saroha has an inter-disciplinary Doctoral degree in Sociology and Laws from Punjab University, Chandigarh, India. In addition, Dr. Saroha has undertaken Postgraduate Diplomas in Health, Family Welfare and Population Education; and Human Resource Management. An Intermediary Level course in French helps him appreciate different languages and cultures of Canada and the world. Dr. Saroha has worked as the Research and Documentation Officer of the Commonwealth Youth Programme, Asia Centre, a division of the Commonwealth Secretariat, London; and as the Deputy Director (Incharge — Information, Education and Communication) with the State AIDS Control Society, Chandigarh under the National AIDS Control Organisation of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of INDIA. During his working career, Dr. Saroha has conducted national and international published research studies on variety of subjects. Dr. Saroha migrated and settled in Toronto, Canada in 2005 establishing his career as a Professional Lawyer in Ontario. During the settling period, Dr. Saroha worked as an Independent Insurance Professional with the top Insurance Companies of Canada. This gives him an edge in Personal Injury and Insurance laws.
According to the jatland wiki page, he is among a select few “Notable persons from this gotra”:
Dr. Ajit Singh Saroha, Barrister in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. One of the most educated and self-actualised persons around.
I’m as equally impressed as you are. A testimonial that would have made Abraham Maslow
roll in his grave blush.
There’s a bit of a problem, though.
I have no quarrel with someone using the honorific or titular “Dr.” for someone who holds a post-graduate degree. However, I doubt that working as an “independent claims professional” (frankly, this sounds like a claims adjuster, but I could be wrong) translates to giving someone “an edge in Personal Injury and Insurance laws.” That’s like me saying that, having loaded trucks and boxcars down on the Cherry Street docks to pay my way through law school , I have been given “an edge in worker’s compensation and transportation laws”.
While Dr. Saroha may have tremendous life experience and non-law related credentials, the reality is that he does not have much practice-related experience. According to this law firm website:
First Article Called to Bar
July2010 Dr Ajit Singh Saroha was Called to Bar by the Law Society of Upper Canada. He had successfully articled with this law firm for ten months. This law firm and all its associates wish him the best of career and growth.
Similar to the all-seeing, omniscient Eye of Providence above, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is also a pyramid:
It is useful for all lawyers to note that “Esteem” is below “Self-actualization” in the climb to enlightenment and new lawyers, in particular, need to take heed of Matthews’ advice:
Difficult as it is for some to believe, humility counts towards likeability; not only that, but interestingly enough, it also makes for a more believable expert. “Under-promise and over-deliver” is also a marketing mainstay that applies: let your clients decide that you’re an expert based upon your performance. Not only is this message better delivered by the hand of others, but it will support such claims of status when you do make them.
After all, it was Dizzy Dean, a baseball pitcher not short on confidence, who famously said: “If you can do it, it ain’t braggin’.”
Under-promise and over-deliver is a sensible approach, but in all things law marketing, it’s best to avoid being and saying you’re a “know-it all”.
- LawyerUP: Lawyers Delivered Up Hot and Fresh (Anchovies Extra) (thetrialwarrior.com)
- Am I a thought leader? (e1evation.com)
- Let’s Put The Expert Topic To Rest, Shall We? (socialmediaexplorer.com)