The legal industry has a genuine concern in rooting out charlatans. The advertising ethics rules reflect as much, with a general prohibition against producing and disseminating false or misleading information, that expands out from there. There are, assuredly, important concepts available in this universe, many of which double as useful general business advice:

A bottle of castor oil sitting on the window s...

A bottle of castor oil sitting on the window sill of the bathroom in the Keeper’s house at Split Rock Lighthouse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘Don’t promise a specific result’ . . . ‘Don’t compare your services to those of another’ . . .

Generally, lawyers attempt to extract the black and white aspects of ethics rules that are, in many places, very much grey. Failing to find what they’re looking for, at least in the case of advertising, they’re more likely to curtail their marketing unnecessarily, than to expand into the more shadowy lands.

Certainly, that’s a personal preference; but, it’s no wonder so many lawyers take ‘underpromise and overdeliver’ to heart. Even so, there’s nothing wrong with providing services that match (rather than overmatch) expectations.

In any event, underpromising and overdelivering may not be the best method to sell your services after all — especially in a hypercompetitive legal market. For one thing, consumers are savvier than ever before, such that game-playing of any kind, even that which ultimately benefits the customer, is unlikely to be appreciated; there’s more value in being a straight shooter. You may also find that you’re not getting the business benefit out of the arrangement that you anticipated — especially if it just ends up being a waste of effort, for a potential client base that is no longer seduced by shock and awe tactics. Straight, suffix-free ‘promising and deliverin’ is also likely to encourage better backside business practices, in that it will force you (and your staff) to meet the (elevated) expectations you establish: You’ll start calling clients back when you say you will. You’ll deliver documents for review in time. Overall, you’ll be compelled to live up to what you said you would do via your elevator pitch (more generally) and/or your agreement for representation (more specifically). Removing excuses for taking shortcuts, by publicizing your unwillingness to use them, will likely lead to a higher level of customer service attaining throughout your firm.

Rather than taking great pains in your attempts to create an alternative reality to overwhelm, instead entrench an approach whereby expectations meet reality. The fewer mind games you construct and release, the more time you can spend on grinding out the kind of quality legal product that your clients will come to expect, and refer to their friends and neighbors.

This post originally appeared in the Massachusetts Bar Association’s eJournal.