5 Public Relations Strategies for Attorneys to Earn Public Trust

Research from a recent Gallup poll rates the public perception of lawyers in the bottom half of common professions. In the survey – when participants were asked to rate ethics and honesty – attorneys ranked below auto mechanics, but at least were above car salespeople and members of Congress. 

Only 19% of those surveyed say attorneys have “very high” or “high honesty” and ethical standards. This shows that lawyers need to play catch-up to earn the trust of potential clients. 

Attorneys are starting from behind when it comes to their image. One of the best ways to get ahead is to spend diligent, intentional time on a robust public relations strategy.

Here are five approaches to earn trust through public relations.
1. Keep your message simple, accessible.

Before you embark on a publicity campaign, decide what you want to communicate to your potential customers, businesses, or other attorneys to help with referrals. 

When you craft your message, keep it free of jargon or complex legal terminology. Typically, attorneys too often need to change their language from legalese to average-person talk. And when I coach attorneys to speak with the media, I help them break things down into 2-3 syllable words and at best at a 5th grade reading level.

Even when attorneys are going to talk with a professional legal publication, they need to get to the “spirit of the law” and beyond the “letter of the law” by using language the reader would understand. For example, while a court filing asking for an “injunction” is meant to stop something from taking place, an attorney should simply say, “We are asking the judge to stop the __________ illegal actions against my client.” Of course, it helps to add understandable hard facts in their messages. You could explain the irreparable (e.g., forcing a business to close with no hope of reopening), so the message comes across as more feeling than a sterile legal discussion. Even a serious legal publication will appreciate an anecdote or story that adds color and makes topics more accessible and more trustworthy. In the case of a business, perhaps it is a family-owned business that has been around for three generations.

2. Start small.

Some attorneys assume that if they want to build a solid reputation, they have to get major media coverage. However, if you aren’t prepared, a bigger audience could actually hurt you.

For instance, if you are working on a case that a national TV show wants you to comment about, but you have had no media training, you could make mistakes that could jeopardize your reputation or your client’s. 

It’s better to start out small, either with a small website, local newspaper, or even a relevant trade publication. Then, you can craft an effective message that can better resonate with national media. 

3. Beautify your biography.

This might seem simple and obvious, but I’ve noticed that attorneys get so busy that they forget to update their own bios on their firm’s website. You’ll want to highlight a changed focus, added practice areas, new law staff, and promote recent victories to clients that might be considering your services. 

I recommend setting aside time each month to assess the information that you’re presenting online, whether it is on your website or social media. Find ways to talk about yourself in positive ways. When permissible, secure testimonials and let others brag about you, too.

4. Increase your visibility.

A terrific way to help your reputation is to speak at conferences, informational sessions, or on expert panels. It helps to establish you as a trustworthy source of information and an accessible thought leader. 

Also, when you speak in person, you speed up the process of someone knowing and liking you that cannot be accomplished through other types of communication. If you want to stand out from the thousands of other attorneys in your area, choose what you’re passionate about so that it shows when you’re speaking. 

If you’re not experienced with speaking, participate in an alumni event, a committee at your bar association, or community forum.

5. Give before expecting to get.

People are impressed with generosity. You can help others, such as by mentioning someone in your blog, congratulating a colleague for an accomplishment on LinkedIn, or sharing people’s links with your own network. 

Word will spread that you’re willing to acknowledge other professionals alongside your own accomplishments.

Bonus Tip: Be proactive, stay patient.

In addition to these strategies, attorneys need to remember the importance of patience. Think about getting major publicity like winning a big case. It can take way longer than anyone likes. When attorneys are quoted in the New York Times, on Fox News, or in The Wall Street Journal, it is often the result of proactively sharing the attorneys’ expertise with producers, editors, or writers for the media outlets, without pushing their publicity agenda. This is so that, at the right time, the media outlets are calling the attorneys for comment. 

Attorneys can build relationships with the media and capitalize on what is happening in the news to leverage their expertise and firm’s brand, with due diligence and patience.