Is it Unprofessional to be Funny?

We devote a fair amount of energy around here towards attempting to get lawyers to loosen up a little in their marketing efforts.

But there's loose and then there's… loose.

On the one hand we have “perhaps you can get away without Court attire and a professional camera crew for your videos”. On the other hand we have the hosts of the 2022 Academy Awards.

So what's the deal when it comes to relaxing a bit, cracking a joke here and there, and generally demonstrating a bit of light-hearted humour in your marketing?


We probably overuse this analogy a bit, but if you turn up at a function to meet and greet some new people, do you aim for serious-minded business talk the whole time?

I'm guessing not. In fact I'm guessing* that most lawyers, most of the time, spend their energy on far less formal topics. We tend to talk about global events, enquire about people's families and life situations, their plans and hobbies, and the things that matter to them across the breadth of their life. And, along the way, there's a lot of laughing. This might be your stereotypical ranconteur, or a mildly self-deprecating sense of humour, or a bit of cheek from time to time – but whatever its format, we generally stay within tolerable boundaries and normally don't leave a function having offended everyone we've spoken with.

*By “guessing” I mean I know for a fact this is what happens.

The reason is, of course, that these functions tend to be an opportunity to just get along with people.

And we know (if only intuitively) that trying to corner someone into a discussion for 90 minutes about their work life isn't always the best way to deepen a relationship and build the “liked” factor.

So in an effort to be more likeable – we keep things light hearted.

And yet, when it comes to publishing material on the internet…

Bring In Captain Serious

For reasons that confound me, the same solicitor who's happy to hit the town and drink shots with a potential client while smack talking the local politician is also completely terrified of hitting publish on anything that has a semblance of that personality in it.

Now, if we lived in a time when everything wasn't recorded on somebody's phone, then perhaps the risk aversion element might make sense. But these days, it doesn't.

And try as we might to pretend this isn't true, there's a good chance Captain Serious' scholarly article efforts bring in fewer clients than Mr Smack Talk's antics down the local pub.

When Humour Goes Wrong

Now despite humour being a critical piece of the marketing arsenal, there are two categories we're best to avoid here:

  • making fun of people or belittling them;
  • being inappropriately silly

On the first, the fact is that while people might have a chuckle at you belittling someone else, they're also wondering whether you might say the same kinds of things about them when you're out of the room. While it might seem worth it to get a laugh, at the end of the day this kind of humour isn't going to increase your trustability – and is fairly likely to damage it.

The second is because it's tone deaf. Sure, you might break out a bit of silly from time to time with your kids, but doing the same in a first client meeting about a potential domestic violence issue is hardly going to build rapport and trust with your new client. Even then though there might sometimes be a time for a bit of silly to come into things – but it has to suit the occasion and the person.

If you're in doubt about what might be suitable on any given occasion, then aiming for “witty” rather than “goofball” is generally a safe play.

It's Not Either Or… It's Both And

Am I saying that every phone call, email and meeting should start with a joke?

No (although that might make a lot of meetings more interesting than they are at the moment).

It's about helping your client or potential client like you and, believe it or not, trust you. There is a degree of authenticity to someone with a sense of humour that helps put others at ease, even in stressful situations.

Law is a serious business, there's no doubt about that. But if you can find the balance between someone knowing you are a gun at your job and ALSO knowing that interactions with you leave them feeling good, then that's a good place to be.



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