The joke goes that some lawyers lack both competence and confidence; call them newbies. Some lawyers have competence, but lack confidence. Some lawyers are competent and have the confidence to let others know about it. A fourth group can project confidence on any subject a potential client asks about regardless of their level of expertise — they’re called senior partners.
Building a successful practice depends on both competence and confidence.
It Feels Good to Be Good
Competence not only fosters success, it’s an ethical duty. American Bar Association Model Rule 1.1 requires lawyers to have “the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”
An essential part of being a lawyer is maintaining a thorough knowledge of your practice area. That includes staying on top of developments. It also means being aware of legal areas outside your own which your actions can impact. Missing these issues is a source of malpractice liability. Examples include immigration fallout from a criminal defense, overlooked additional and third-party claims by injury practitioners, and tax issues in employment claims. Alerting clients to these issues and possibly making a referral is part of competence, too.
But what good is it to know your area of law inside and out if you lack clients to support a practice?
You have to let others know you’ve got the chops to do the work. This can be particularly hard for young lawyers, natural introverts and women who were brought up learning it was not ladylike to “boast.” Communicating your expertise is the foundation of your marketing. You can achieve this through your website, email newsletters, blogging, publishing through prestigious media, and speaking to targeted groups of potential clients and referral sources.
Project that Competence
Confidence is a skill you can learn. Many organizations offer “acting for lawyers” classes. Look for rainmaker or client counseling classes with specific exercises on this skill; be careful — some courses say you need confidence but don’t teach how to project it. Consider hiring a coach.
Clients need to trust that their attorney will be able to effectively represent them. If your deskside manner reflects insecurity about your own skills, existing and potential clients will pick up on that. You can project competence even when (perhaps especially when) explaining the unlikelihood of a successful result. That doesn’t mean you have to be pompous. The most competent and confident counselors are empathic. They’re also successful.