How To Manage Your Law Firm’s Reputation Like A Fine Wine

The Judgment of Paris sounds like a dramatic WWII movie.

But, the only battle in the Judgment of Paris was between bottles of wine. It was, of course, neck to neck.

On May 24, 1976, a British wine merchant Steven Spurrier organized a wine competition in Paris. French judges, in addition to carrying the weight of the world’s best wine producers on their shoulders, carried out two blind tasting comparisons.

After high-quality Chardonnays and then red wines (Bordeaux from France and Cabernet Sauvignon from California). To the surprise of all, a California wine rated best in each category.

Soon the names of American regions Napa and Sonoma, including their wines, were on the tip of everybody’s tongues. Prices for California wines skyrocked and bottles shot off the shelves.

One win can mean everything for your reputation.

Reputation can make or break the bank for law firms. Establishing your business as high-quality, hardworking, and consistent is difficult. New firms lack in legitimacy and experience while incumbent firms find it difficult to change their longstanding reputation.

“Reputations have a strong geographic component,” says Ed Wesemann for Edge International Review.

“A business that is a household name with a strong reputation may never have been heard of in any other.”

Vinyards, like American wines vs. French ones, are also handicapped by their location.

For example, in an old potato field off the highway in New Jersey, Lou Caracciolo planted his first grapes. He was ready to bring the Judgment of Paris to the east coast of New England. He even crafted his cellar in an authentic European style.

Unfortunately, Lou Caracciolo is not a first mover in the market. And, New Jersey has already seen vinyards dating back to prohibition. New Jersey style wine is fruity to a fault. Overly sweet, New Jersey wine is low-cost and low-brow.

Next door, Lou Caracciolo is trying to fight this reputation.

He wants to sell dry, French-tasting wines in an area off the map for those in the market for high-quality, refined, and expensive wine products.

This is an economic phenomenon called a collection action problem, explains NPR Planet Money. Sometimes your rivals make your reputation.

So how does Lou and law firms get out of this reputation glut?

Choose a new marketing scheme. Lou Caracciolo markets his wine as “outter coastal plain.” That is, after all, also south Jersey. Next, he officially certified this region as an officiall wine-cultivating area (“viticultural area”), according to U.S. rules and regulations.

Next, create a public voice.

For Lou Caracciolo, it is important that the public taste his wine to understand its depth and quality. He started a campaign to build reputation and prestige off sales pitches and in-person sales operations.

Law firms should consider writing an official Public Relations (PR) policy and hiring a PR rep. With law firm websites, media coverage of cases, and social media abreast, it’s important that the public view your law firm according to the principles and standards it espouses.

As a start-up law firm building its reputation, don’t be afraid to offer contingency fees for new clients. For particularly high-profile cases, a win may not lead to high rents, but it will likely yield a higher reputation to attract prospective clients.

For incumbent firms, manage your new reputation or reframe your old one through meticulous public profiling. Don’t let rumors of embezzlement, severe layoffs, office closings, or lawsuits against the firm spin out of control.

Manage the external communication, internal communication, and media statements that reach the ears of your clients and society at large. Meticulously plan your internal policies to increase productivity. And, refuse to permit rivals—their poor standards or reputation—to determine your future.

Of course, in a blind test, quality matters more than reputation. Nevertheless, since only justice (not potential clients) is blind: beware of sour grapes.


Listen to the full story of Lou Caracciolo and his wine on NPR’s podcast Planet Money.

Employee lawsuits are the worst kind of publicity for law firms. When tough conversations are poorly managed, problems fester, productivity plummets, and your risk for an employee lawsuit increases.

Introducing, Handling Difficult Conversations: Communication Strategies for the Workplace– your practical, hands-on guide to managing the most challenging employee and management conversations that may just save your reputation.

This information-packed, 108-page guide provides practical and realistic solutions for tackling the hardest elements of workplace interactions, including:

  • Job Performance
  • Disciplinary Action
  • Termination of Employment
  • Employee Complaints about the Workplace
  • Disabilities (Related to Job Accommodations)
  • Personal Presentation/Hygiene


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