What is Thought Leadership?
It's no secret that the term "thought leadership" has become a buzzword. It is tossed around loosely, but we may or may not know exactly what it means.
So what exactly IS thought leadership? And what do we mean when we talk about a particular attorney being a "thought leader?"
"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
This is a quote from William Shakespeare's play Henry VI. The oft-quoted and always-misunderstood line was uttered by Dick the Butcher, whose declaration that they "kill all the lawyers" represented his desire to improve society.
But what most people don't realize is that Dick the Butcher is not suggesting that killing all the lawyers would improve the moral health of society by purging the culture of such loathsome creatures as lawyers...Rather, his suggestion is that without lawyers, evil degenerates like himself would have free rein to do whatsoever they pleased. Why? Because lawyers maintain order in society by upholding the law. And the implication in the play is that without them, civilization would dissolve into anarchy.
"With great power comes great responsibility."
So said one of my law school professors (and Uncle Ben from Spiderman). Lawyers have a critical role in society. People look to us for our opinions not just on the law, but also on the cultural and political climates in which we live and work.
There is a reason for this. Attorneys have great power through our education, our training, and our status - but with this power comes a steep responsibility to steward our skills in a way that serves the greater good. When we work with integrity, stay informed on current events, and develop well-reasoned opinions about important cultural issues, we take our place as leaders - thought leaders - in our communities. When we work together to stay informed and educated, we can do a lot to not only uphold the existing laws, but also to be change agents within the law, whether we are working within the judicial chambers, serving large companies, or in a courtroom ardently fighting for our clients' rights.
Thought leadership is how we exhibit our knowledge and authority and our handle on some of these very important matters. When we hold ourselves out as thought leaders, we show that we are not just people who show up to work from 9-5. We are in this because it is a service profession. It is a professional calling. And we care enough to stay informed on the issues that impact our clients.
How can I become a thought leader?
#1: Stay informed. Read the news. Understand local and national politics. Keep your finger on the pulse point of important legal and political issues impacting your clients.
#2: Publish. Whether you blog, pitch to law reviews, author books, or simply develop an active presence on social media, lead the conversation on important issues by honing and sharing thoughtful, educated, well-reasoned opinions.
#3: Be the same person everywhere. To instill trust in your clients and your online audience, be consistent with what you say and share. Don't be one person in the courtroom and entirely another in rush-hour traffic. Prove that you are trustworthy by treating everyone, always, with courtesy and respect.
Above all, remember that people are inclined to lean in and listen to you on account of your position alone. And when they do, make sure you are prepared to share something worth knowing.
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