11/3/09

Law Firms and the Cult of Personality

I have been thinking about the cult of personality lately. As geeks, we always like to think we are so nouveau, so cutting-edge in our attempts to lasso technology. Especially in the social media arena. Our pink-haired, horn-rimmed nerdy selves keep trying to out-tweet, out-blog and out-optimize one another in an effort to be ahead of the next big thing. But the truth of it is that the compulsion to create the cult of personality has been around for ages. What brought this all to head for me was watching Michael Jackson's This Is It this week-end (shameless plug for my movie review site inserted here). Talk about personality--he had it in spades. Whether you thought he was talented, weird, the King of Pop or whatever, this guy made and lost more money than most of us will ever see in our own lifetime. The man was a genius at making a spectacle of himself--intentionally or otherwise. The movie got me to thinking: just how does one achieve that kind of larger-than-life status? I think that is a question that all marketers, especially legal marketers, struggle with. Just how do you achieve cult status for a law firm? I mean, seriously, who has ever gone to a party and just started randomly raving about what a great lawyer they have because they helped them evade a $10 million fine for tax evasion? Or avoid an ugly trial that would cover the desperate allegations against drug company? Or how do you post a blog about how your law firm successfully negotiated a settlement for an undisclosed amount for an issue that cannot be discussed outside of the realm of attorney-client privilege? So we fall back on the cult of personality, where lawyers have to cultivate public personas to establish themselves as thought leaders in their given practice, which goes against most lawyers' academic inclinations and most large law firms mantras that "the whole is greater than the sum of our partners." The only lawyers that succeed at the cult of personality are those that are on their own, on tv or are judges--or some mix thereof. The most popular ones that come to mind are Judge Judy, Greta Van Susteran, Geraldo Rivera, the Supremes (a/k/a Ginsberg, Scalia, et al.) and Texas cowboy litigators, Percy Foreman, the DeGuerin brothers, Joe Jamail, and the late, great Texas lawyer John O'Quinn. All of this got me to thinking about one of the most influential of our early Americans, Benjamin Franklin. An uneducated man by any academic standards (he only completed 2 years of education) he developed his own cult of personality. I mean, how else can you account for him singlehandedly convincing 13 colonies, in the midst of a revolution, to move their clocks back one hour? How in the heck did he persuade everyone to do that without sending one single e-mail? And let's not forget all of his lady-friends. Now that's personality! NOTE: please don't hold me to the historical accuracy of the creation of day light savings--I am aware that this was a long, legislative effort conceived and compelled by other men--I am merely taking some poetic license to make a point.

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