In my last Bar Bulletin article, I reported on various awards given to attorneys at the Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Equal Justice Awards banquet.
Afterward, Bill Graessle emailed me, reminding me that he’d been one of the award recipients, but I left him out of my column.
At first, I just tried to convince Bill that my omission of his name was merely a personal slight. I mentioned the fact that he is, after all, losing a lot of hair, but Bill pointed out that I referenced Mike Freed, who is a lot more bald than Bill.
Graessle then stumbled on the ugly truth: My last article was part of a pay-to-play game, and Bill had failed to pay up.
Bill surmised that, like so many other organizations, the JBA had taken the easy path to financial success and has created a faux attorney recognition program.
In exchange for a relatively small fee, the JBA will include you on the listing of not-too-awfully-bad attorneys, and issue you a complementary plaque (or probably a beer koozie).
If you decide to not pay, you will be like Bill Graessle and your name will never appear in this column.
Seriously, we all know that Bill Graessle’s reputation speaks for itself, and I regret omitting him.
Increasingly, though, members of our profession feel that they have to find ways to distinguish themselves to market to a public that knows little about what we do and how well we do it. Instead of asking attorneys for referrals, clients are now increasingly searching the internet where it’s impossible to distinguish between attorneys.
Savvy clients know that the best way to find a good attorney is to find a reference through a trusted attorney in another specialty. Our profession certainly needs to find good ways to educate the public on attorney selection.
Reputation is important, and its certainly easier for those of us who have been around for a while, but there are a lot of very good young attorneys out there who are working hard for their clients and doing a great job. Hopefully, those good young attorneys are becoming active in our committees and sections and participating in JBA social events where they can better network and grow their reputations. How else will we know to pass on their names when a referral comes along?
Duval County Judge Gary Flower and Circuit Judge Eric Roberson, along with Mark Alexander and others on the Professionalism and Mentoring Committee, have been working with the JBA to develop ways to more effectively mentor younger attorneys and to assist them in navigating the profession.
Mentoring is not only about developing skills for law practice, but also involves guidance on how to sustain and grow a viable reputation.
For attorneys looking to build successful careers, we have an excellent way to build your reputation: The JBA has more than 30 committees covering the gamut of practice areas, as well as pro bono interest and civic engagement. Working on those committees, or working with the Young Lawyers Section, provides a great way to build strong relationships while letting others know your interests and skills.
I can think of no better way for a young attorney to build a career than to work on a committee side-by-side with senior attorneys and judges. A strategy of involving oneself in important committee work and building reputation through service to JBA or The Florida Bar committee efforts is bound to be more successful than buying into some pay-to-play recognition system and getting a plaque.