Differentiation, in its simplest form, is the breaking from the status quo to do something unique and distinct.
Lawyers and law firms struggle with the idea of differentiation. They feel confined by ethics rules, beholden to the conservative mindset that plagues the profession, or unable to leave the safety of “me too” in favor of “me first.” If you’ve been searching for one initial step you can take toward separating yourself from the vast majority of lawyers out there, I’ve got your answer - get rid of your email disclaimer.
In a recent TechnoLawyer newsletter, D.C.-area attorney Frederick H. Kruck, Jr. advised:
Unless your State Bar requires the use of the disclaimer (I am in Virginia, which does not require a disclaimer on email) there is absolutely no reason to use such an absurd addition to your email. The only reason most people use them is because they see other lawyers using them. If it seems "necessary" to you, it is only because all of the sheep are running along in a herd and human instinct tells you that when everyone else is running in a certain direction, you should too.
In anticipation of any objections over potential liability, Mr. Kruck relied on a post from The Lawyerist and an article in The Economist to declare, “[N]o case has ever been decided that exonerated a lawyer because of a disclaimer, nor found attorney liable for not having a disclaimer.”
In condemning electronic disclaimers, Mr. Kruck, The Lawyerist, and The Economist target eco-friendliness, email etiquette, and economy. While those are all important points, I submit that disclaimers contribute to the public’s perception that lawyers are a commodity. The language of every such notice is similar if not identical to the next, and use of the disclaimer is now the rule with scant exception.
Perhaps more important than differentiation is the idea of innovation, that is, blazing a new trail where no one has yet ventured. Innovation in the legal industry is somewhat of an oxymoron, but it doesn’t have to be. By taking small steps to differentiate themselves, lawyers and law firms can build individual and institutional courage to strike out into new frontiers and earn the right to proclaim “me first.” It may sound inconsequential, but changing your email signature block might be the best way to start.
Just my two cents. Let me know your thoughts.