“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett.
We often hear that we should not judge others and therefore may wrongfully assume that we, ourselves, are not being judged. But the truth remains that others are observing and forming opinions on us every day based on our words, behaviors, and dress. It’s human nature. We must be cautious to not become too complacent. The legal community, while expansive, is particularly close-knit. The people sitting next to you in class, attorneys you meet at events, and judges you appear before on the bench are all people that you will run into again and again throughout your career.
From the very moment you walk into your law school orientation, you begin to build a reputation for yourself. You have to be aware of the way you carry yourself and how others will interpret your actions. The manner you are perceived will affect the respect you receive from others and the opportunities that will come your way. You may very well graduate from law school at the top of your class, with an impeccable résumé to boot, but if you’re known as the guy or gal who drinks too much at functions, you might as well kiss all of that hard work goodbye. Here are five tips to help you preserve your reputation as a law student:
1. Have respect for everyone around you. Courtesy should not be limited to your professors or bosses, but rather you should mind your manners with everyone. Say hello to the janitor when you walk by. Get to know your barista. It simply takes two seconds and a few muscles to smile. Watch how quickly your quality of life and mood improves when you radiate positivity. Psychologically, a pleasant person exudes likability. You want to be known as the person who makes everyone’s day a little brighter. Besides, you never know who is going to be a future colleague, client, or superior.
2. Never gossip. If for no other reason, it is rude and tacky. What you say about others will reflect more negatively on you, than it will on the person you are talking about. Secondly, you never know with whom you are speaking and who else is around. If you are willing to gossip about others, those talking with you will be very guarded in fear that you will make disparaging comments about them in the future. Part of being an attorney is respecting client confidentiality. Start practicing that skill now.
3. Dress appropriately. That goes for the courtroom, events, or simply the grocery store. Pretend you are a celebrity and that paparazzi are lurking everywhere. You want to be known for your charisma and charm, not your torn-up, ratty jeans. Now, I’m not suggesting that you dress in a plain, nor boring manner, rather make sure that the topic of conversation leads to how sharp of a dresser you are. You want to look neat and tailored. Fair or not, you are judged based on your looks and people will make assumptions about your intellect and character by looking at you. Whether you are putting on sweatpants or a suit, the act of getting dressed requires the same amount of effort, so why not look like a million bucks?
4. Do not become intoxicated. There is always that person at a function who has taken one too many trips to the open bar. I assure you that everyone knows their name, and not in a good way. Be extremely cautious that when drinking, it is only on a social level and that you do not become inebriated. An often unspoken social rule is to go so far as set your drink down whenever being photographed. Granted that this is not always possible, but try your very best to not be captured by an event photographer with a drink in hand.
5. Clean up your social media accounts. Luckily with social media you are able to control the image of you that is made public. Realize that what may be impressive to your best friend could potentially be offensive to your boss. You should delete posts that are less-than-flattering and emphasize your accomplishments. Also, take advantage of features controlling who has access to your information as a precaution if you have anything that could reflect negatively against you. While tedious, it is extremely beneficial to go back and review past posts and images. Purge anything that remotely resembles you being crowned College Beer Pong Champion. When you look back at your MySpace statuses or Facebook photos from a few years back, you may find posts where you may not have been using your best judgment.
During my past year of law school I have witnessed these careless errors being made, and quite frequently. I share these tips with you so that you don’t have to wait to witness or fall victim to these fatal errors yourself. It is important to learn from others’ mistakes and remain constantly aware of how your words, actions, and behaviors can be interpreted by others. These five simple maxims will help ensure that you are putting your best face forward. ■