In his classic book, Influence, psychologist Robert Cialdini identifies “authority” as one of the primary principles of persuasion. From a police officer in uniform, to a doctor in a lab coat, to a professor at a lectern, Cialdini explains that we tend to listen to and respect those who possess the titles and trappings of authority.
But things have changed in the nearly 35 years since Influence was first published. Thanks to the Internet, we now have much more to go on to determine if someone is an expert. For example, 30 years ago a Rolex watch, Brooks Brothers suit, and framed diploma hanging on the wall may have been enough to convince a prospective client that a lawyer was an expert in his or her field. Today, these trappings are far less likely to influence behavior and lead to new business.
Why? Because lawyers rarely have an opportunity to display these symbols of authority in-person unless they’ve already demonstrated expertise online. A prospective client’s first touch-point with a lawyer is not in his office—it’s on Google, on LinkedIn, or on his website bio. A prospective client wants to learn what a lawyer has to say online, and what others have to say about her, before sitting down face-to-face.