How to Look Like An Expert

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A few days ago I met a talented corporate transactional lawyer.  Let’s call him Steve (because that is his name).  He is smart, personable and knowledgeable about his area of the law.  He has a terrific reputation and a significant body of work.  On paper this guy is one of the top transactional lawyers in the state.

Unfortunately, law is not practiced on paper.  It is practiced in real life.

Steve showed up for his meeting with me in a golf shirt and tan pants.  His cell phone was clipped to his belt and he had a goatee that looked like it had not been trimmed in at least six months.  When we ate lunch he chewed with his mouth open, spoke with his mouth full and used the wrong fork.

During lunch Steve confessed that he meets with lots of potential clients that never end up hiring him.

Steve was meeting with me to see if I could help him turn his extensive knowledge into money in the bank.  He was looking for some magic phrase or technique that would help him sign up more clients.  Unfortunately, Steve does not know what his true problem is.

Steve’s problem is something many lawyers face.  He just doesn’t look like an expert.

Steve has a problem with his personal brand.  To a corporate CEO or General Counsel, Steve looks like a middle manager.  He doesn’t look like a lawyer who specializes in sophisticated mergers.  He looks like the guy who is dating their daughter and not the guy who will help them handle the Securities and Exchange Commission regulations.

To make things clear for Steve, I thought I would share some guidelines that I have developed to help my clients look like experts.  Keep in mind that MOST lawyers will not follow these. That is because they are AVERAGE.  If you want to be perceived as being average then you should ignore these as well.

How to Look Like an Expert:  A Guide for Steve

Shave.  Lounge magicians, beatnik poets and high school kids have goatees.  Just because you can grow a beard does not mean you should.  Look at the CEOs in the Fortune 500.  How many do you see with goatees?  If you insist on having a goatee, trim it daily.

Lose the belt clip.  You are not a Christmas tree with ornaments hanging from your appendages.  You should not have a phone hanging from your belt.  Put it in your pocket like the rest of the non-senior citizens.  If it is too big to fit in your pocket, leave it in the car or buy a smaller phone.

Stop talking.  Ask a question then shut up and listen for the answer.  Experts impress people with the questions they ask even more than with the information they share.

Eat like a human.  Do not chew with your mouth open or talk with your mouth full.

Dress better than the client. If the client is casual, you should have on a jacket and slacks.  If the client is in a jacket and slacks, you should have on a suit and tie.  If the client has on a suit and tie you should have on an impeccably pressed suit, designer tie and unique cuff links (and/or a pocket square).  You always want to dress one level above the client.  Psychologically it positions you as an expert.

These five tips are a great start toward improving your personal brand.  Keep in mind that you have to dress and act like an expert in order to be treated like an expert.