Originally posted in The National Law Journal on March 24, 2014.
In the Netflix series “House of Cards,” Kevin Spacey’s character has a presence—in every room he enters, he is a force to be reckoned with. We all know lawyers like this; some people are just larger than life.
Strangely, some of the lawyers with the most distinguished presences in the real world have little to no visibility in the online world.
Your online visibility is an aggregate of two things—what results appear when people search for your name on Google, and whether your name pops up when people search for your specialty or practice area online.
In other words, your online presence helps to validate who you are. When a business associate refers a potential client to you, the vetting process often begins with Google. And so the simplest definition of online presence becomes: What does Google say about you?
For example, a few days ago, I received a message from a partner at a law firm. I hadn’t met him before, but he had seen my article about Avvo.com, the largest online lawyer-ranking service, and told me his firm had just lost out on an engagement because its Avvo rating wasn’t high enough.
His firm was being compared to another firm based on an online profile he didn’t even know existed.
Now, Avvo.com is just one lawyer listing site, but, as a lawyer, your Avvo results may show up on the first page of any Google search for your name.
Failure to have a strong online presence, therefore, can be a true liability. You may not care what Google says about you or whether your name has ever come up on Twitter, but a new generation of in-house counsel cares very much—its members grew up in the online environment and it’s their default source for information about a wide range of subjects, including potential attorney hires.
In short, your online presence is your living “sum” the best evidence to the world of what you are the very best at. You need to consistently work to build it up.
How to go about this? Recognize that past performance is the best predictor of future performance. How can you tailor your online presence to show a pattern of success? Two words: Be specific. If you have hit five home runs in high-stakes litigation, highlight that in your online law firm and LinkedIn biographies.
Don’t make too much of the fact that you’ve handled some middling corporate transactions. Think like a rock band and make sure your playlist is full of your biggest hits.
Whether you are a very private person or a power-hungry mover and shaker, your online presence is out there. There is no escaping it. You just need to decide if you want to make your online presence a strength or a liability.