An ounce of performance is worth a pound of promises
Earning credibility with your peers and the court in the early stages of a legal career is a significant challenge, but one which is critical to your overall development as a lawyer. Why does being credible even matter? It matters because establishing yourself as being credible allows you to have the respect and trust of others, two hallmarks of a top attorney. Your own personal credibility will give your clients the benefit of that reputation in your representation of them.
One of the most important pieces of advice I received as a lawyer just starting my career came from a very prominent and well-regarded litigator who told me to remember that at the start of my career "I would know nothing and have no reputation" and that at the end of ten years, I would "still know nothing, but would have a reputation." He went on to stress the importance of developing credibility and how that would empower me to successfully represent my clients. That piece of advice is one which cannot be taken too lightly. The attorney who is trusted is one who will be able to best develop a persona that attracts and retains clients, gains the trust and respect of colleagues and the court.
Your reputation is something you should carefully develop and maintain. It will provide you with benefits beyond your own sense of self. As one author noted, "reputation is also an extremely potent weapon" and when a lawyer "has a reputation for integrity and civility, others become disarmed." 
How does one take positive steps to develop a reputation as a credible attorney when you are young and just starting your career? Here are four steps to get you on your way.
- Knowledge and preparation
Knowledge and preparation are keys to building credibility. The payback from these two stepping stones is significant. Judges and attorneys respect other attorneys who actually know what they are talking about. How do you actually achieve this when you have been a lawyer for only a few years or even a few months? The answer is simple: preparation, preparation and more preparation. The more prepared you are the more you will not only know about what you are doing, but will actually appear confident and self assured. Your ability to be credible will be undermined if you sound hesitant or unsure of what you are saying or doing on behalf of a client. It also goes without saying that you owe it to your clients to be fully prepared in all aspects of your representation of them.
If you want to damage your credibility, make sure to show up for a deposition, motion or other court-related proceeding ill-prepared and lacking in a basic understanding of what is required of you. This will most certainly result in you looking foolish, or cocky, or ignorant, or worse all three; none of which will enhance your reputation and even more damaging, will no doubt hurt your client's interests. While every young lawyer will have moments in their career where due to inexperience, they will be confronted with a situation they do not fully know how to address. The inexperienced but well researched attorney will impress other lawyers and the court with their efforts to be fully prepared. Inexperience is no excuse to be unprepared.
Having an excellent command of your case, the facts and the law will overcome your lack of skill in presentation, cross examination or oral argument. Moreover, your sense of confidence will project an aura of credibility beyond your years of experience. The corollary to this, however, is recognizing and acknowledging one's own limitations so that you do not take on a task too far beyond your skills and abilities. Additionally, do not pretend that you know more you do. In the words of Rudyard Kipling, "don't look too good nor talk too wise."
- Always be forthright with the court
One of the biggest surprises for young lawyers is to learn that judges talk about lawyers. Judges are no different than the rest of us in that you can expect that they speak to one another about the conduct of lawyers who appear in their courtrooms. One of the fastest and surest ways to destroy your reputation is to be anything less than forthright in your dealings with the court. A lawyer who cannot be trusted by the court will never be respected by the court. Why does this matter, you ask? Many discretionary decisions made by the court rely on the court's assessment of the person making the assertion, such as statements as to the need for an adjournment, the state of the law, to whether a document was actually sent or received, whether one party is being unreasonable, or whether to accept or reject the lawyer's argument. The court's discretion may be exercised, in part, on how the court perceives the person making the representation. "Integrity is the essence of everything successful."
Some examples of conduct that can enhance your own credibility and build your "trust bank" with the court includes making sure when you cite cases that you have actually checked to make sure they have not been overturned. If a mistake in your materials comes to light, tell the court first rather than let the court find it out. Be courteous to the courtroom and courthouse staff. Treat your opponent with respect, and don't take absurd positions. Remember that it is not necessary to win every battle in order to win the war. A reputation for taking measured positions can be useful when the opposite attorney tries to paint you as unreasonable.
- Get to know members of the Bar
Success begets success. Take time to get yourself known by other leading attorneys and judges. Your ability to quickly gain a positive reputation, and therefore credibility, will be enhanced by making the effort to connect with people who already have that reputation. In effect you enhance your own reputation by association with senior attorneys or judges who themselves already are held in high regard. More importantly, you will also benefit from learning from those who have worked hard to develop their credibility profile before you. In making a positive impression, you will gain their respect through your professional association. In an article published by the Advocate's Society, a superior court judge stressed that "the paths of lawyers may cross and re-cross over and over again. Lawyers have long memories, particularly about the conduct of colleagues, and in my experience there can be nothing more important than the reputation enjoyed by an advocate amongst his or her colleagues." By taking the time to know your colleagues in and out of court, you will create the foundation for your reputation and enhance your credibility.
- Have high ethical standards
An advocate without ethics will have a reputation not worth having. No one trusts a lawyer who acts in an underhanded manner or takes petty advantage of her opponent. The ethical standards by which lawyers are governed are a critical aspect of earning and deserving credibility. There is no doubt that all of the work you put into developing a great reputation will be squandered if you do not concurrently develop and adhere to the ethical standards required of every attorney. As Abraham Lincoln once stated "Let no young [wo]man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief -- resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer."
Joan M. Young is a partner and senior litigator in the Advocacy and Litigation Group of McMillan LLP in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She specializes in civil and commercial litigation, representing a wide range of clients and industries including mining, forestry, hospitality, manufacturing, insurance and government. Her broad litigation experience includes government and public agency law, aboriginal law, tort law and employment law. She is active in her local bar as an elected representative of the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association.
 Mae West, actress
 Richard C.C. Peck, QC, The Advocate, Vol 70, Part I, page 21
Richard Buckminster Fuller
 The Honourable R. Roy McMurtry, Chief Justice of Ontario, May 2001