You never get a second chance to make a first impression
We have all experienced bad first impressions: the person that cuts you off in the parking lot and takes your spot; any office with a rude person answering the phone; the restaurant with the “C” rating; the company with bad reviews on Yelp; the neighbor with many “no trespassing” and “stay off the lawn” signs. All of these result in split second impressions, often harsh ones. That may include: that driver is a jerk, that office must not be a nice place to work, that restaurant must not be clean, that business is subpar, and no borrowing sugar from that one.
Whether in person, on the phone or online ‒ we are well versed in reading between the lines and drawing conclusions based on the initial information before us. Often firmly making up our minds well before actually seeing proof or verification of our assumptions. In person, we have more cues to read: eye contact, attitude, verbal tone, cleanliness and the like. However, in today’s digital world, many of our first impressions are formed online, with no firsthand experience whatsoever.
You cannot unring the bell
Studies have shown it takes less than two-tenths of a second for an online visitor to form a first opinion of your brand once they’ve accessed your company’s website, according to researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. It takes just another 2.6 seconds for that viewer’s eyes to concentrate in a way that reinforces that first impression. It is very unusual for a person to change his or her overall impression of another person’s character or qualifications. It can happen, but it’s the exception, not the rule. Most of the time, we form an opinion and stick with it. This is true in person and is equally true online. That is why attorneys and other professionals hire consultants and PR firms to be sure their online image and “brand” are sound, and to be sure they are putting their best foot forward.
In today’s current climate, where our adversaries are feeding an ever growing negative image and distrust of our profession, making a good first impression is especially important for ALL members of the Bar. Access to justice is better accomplished when the public feels respect and trust for the legal profession, not the opposite.
That which has been seen cannot be unseen
Given the foregoing, I cannot begin to adequately describe my shock and disappointment upon reviewing our own State Bar of California web page. Of the fifteen points set forth on the California Bar website, home page, (www.calbar.ca.gov), nine of the fifteen deal with complaints about attorneys.
Where the Medical Board of California website starts with a picture of a caring looking doctor and mission statement discussing “protecting healthcare consumers,” “promoting access to quality medical care” and overall has a tone of solidarity and respect for the medical profession (www.mbc.ca.gov); our own California Bar website is literally bursting at the seams with condemnations, complaints and disdain.
Home Page, center top, the first thing you see: “Unauthorized Practice of Law” (“Find out what’s considered the unauthorized practice of law and how to file a complaint”); “File a complaint” (“To report attorney misconduct, call the multilingual complaint hotline or file a complaint online); “Disbarment Recommended for Attorney” (“The State Bar has recommended disbarment for the lawyer taking $30,000 from a trust fund for genocide survivors.”)
As you scroll down, the right side of the page lists four “Resources for Consumers,” three of which deal with complaints involving attorneys:
- How to file an attorney misconduct complaint (again);
- File an unauthorized practice of law complaint (again);
- Read multilingual information on how to file a complaint.
Then, there is a “What’s New” section, including three more complaints regarding attorneys; New Attorney Suspension Reports from August: Abandoning a client, unauthorized practice of law results in attorney discipline; Disbarment recommended for attorney who mishandled genocide funds (again);
Lawyer disbarred for planting drugs in the car of a PTA volunteer.
If any one of us saw this on the website of an expert or colleague, I would venture to guess not a single one of us would refer any business to that individual or firm. Our first impression would sound something like: “danger!” Discipline of attorneys and protection of the public are goals of the State Bar; and yes, there should be a place on the website regarding filing complaints. However, the State Bar’s treatment of complaints is excessive, and as a result, the overall impression is very negative. We shouldn’t have to worry that someone goes on the site to locate an attorney or file a complaint, and leaves with a pit of distrust in their gut for our entire profession.
There is so much I could say as to why I believe this site is not putting our best foot forward and not respectfully serving a key goal of the California State Bar, promoting access to justice; however, I think by just going to the site, and looking for yourselves, you will draw similar conclusions. In short, regardless of what field of law you practice, we are all harmed by this terrible first impression, and we can and must speak up and do better!
“Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”
― William Jennings Bryan
Celebrating our successes
OCTLA has a long and proud history of building relationships within the community and of recognizing the accomplishments of our colleagues. This year is no exception as we approach our Top Gun Trial Lawyer of the Year Awards and Charity Auction being held on December 2, 2017 at the Newport Beach Marriott: Mark P. Robinson, Jr. (Personal Injury); Richard E. Donahoo (Financial Fraud/Elder Abuse); Brian J. McCormack (Premises Liability); Thomas Feher (Young Gun) and Wylie A. Aitken (Hall of Fame) will all be recognized for their outstanding results and dedication.
Consistent with OCTLA’s tradition of giving back, this year 100 percent of the proceeds of the silent and live auction will benefit The Eli Home, a safe harbor for abused women and children in Orange County. To purchase tickets, become a sponsor, or donate an item for the silent auction, please go to www.octla.org or contact Janet Thornton at (949) 916-9577.
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
― Winston S. Churchill
Shaina Colover is 2017 President of the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association and practices personal injury law with her dad at The Law Offices of Ronald B. Schwartz, upstairs from Muldoon’s Irish Pub in Newport Beach. She serves on the CAOC Diversity Committee and is former chair of the OCBA and OCTLA education committees.
Copyright © 2019 by the author.
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