The king of Epirus waged warfare against the Roman Empire at Asculum in Apulia in the year 279 B.C. Somewhat surprisingly, the king’s forces prevailed against the awesome might of Rome but suffered such grievous losses that victory still looked a lot like defeat. That king’s name was Pyrrhus, and it’s from his name that we get the phrase “Pyrrhic victory.”
More than one successful entrepreneur has been bankrupted by negative public perception. More than one resume has been tossed into the shredder as soon as it was received. As someone who manages a brand that relies on a personal appeal, it will serve you well to move slowly when considering legal action against another person or business concern. The magnitude at which lawsuits hurt a personal brand cannot be measured, so this is why it is crucial to have a game plan in place.
Yes, you have been harmed in a tangible way. It might be time for you to take legal action.
Or perhaps it isn’t.
My interest in highlighting how lawsuits hurt a personal brand in today’s hyper-connected society is not to convince you not to take action, but rather to make sure that King Pyrrhus stays in the history books where he belongs. Consider these five things.
1. Lawsuits are getting an increasing amount of online attention.
Take a few deep breaths. If your personal brand relies heavily on eCommerce, social media presence, and other forms of digital marketing, you may need to reassess the wisdom of taking someone to court, even if your cause is clearly right.
The gory details of your legal action will enter the exact same online space where you might be trying to conduct business. Given the public’s propensity to find out more about a news item by following up with a visit to Google, you’ll at least want to take this into consideration.
2. Both sides will be given an opportunity to air grievances.
If you are contemplating legal action, let’s just assume that you have been seriously wronged. As part of that hurt, you have a lot of things you’d like to say about the other party involved, and you really don’t mind those comments being made public. Fair enough.
Now, consider the other side of the coin.
Whoever you are taking to court will have the opportunity to say a few things about you as well. Judges and juries will want to know if you are the sort of person who overstates things or files lawsuits frivolously. Your opponent will almost certainly do whatever they can to caricature you and dismiss your claim as “no big deal.” For example, if you were ever formally disciplined by a former employer that you’re now taking to court, you can expect that information to come out repeatedly in the proceedings.
3. Suing an employer might be penny-wise but pound-foolish.
By now, you should be taking it for granted that any potential employer is going to run your name (and personal brand) through online search engines. We all know this.
What most people do not know is that many companies are delving much deeper into publicly-available data to draw a more thorough portrait of the person they are dealing with. There is nothing at all illegal about companies employing staff to conduct a deep dive into your digital footprint. If it’s online, it’s fair game, and lawsuits are all considered a matter of public record. You might get the chance to explain your legal record to a future client or employer, or they might (like many) choose to pass on you…and you’ll never know the real reason.
4. Not all personal injuries rise to the level of a lawsuit.
This may go down hard, but the plain truth is that not every personal injury rises to the level where it benefits you to seek legal remediation. Lawsuits hurt your personal brand, so it’s important to pick your battles wisely.
Emotionally speaking, it seems like it makes sense to go after any and all parties that are responsible for an injury, but that’s not always so. Compounding this lack of clarity is the unfortunate reality that there are plenty of unscrupulous lawyers who will take your unwinnable case simply to rack up some billable hours.
So how do you tell if your injury is “sufficient” to merit legal action?
As with any other aspect of dealing with difficult circumstances, the best bet is to take your emotions out of play. You can do this by consulting reputable attorneys and setting objective criteria for evaluating the research you conduct. Of course, you think your injury is severe, and the people who love you will validate that emotion. However, it pays to keep in mind that court cases aren’t decided by your loved ones.
5. Will legal action harm more than help?
When asking yourself this question, the main focus for your answer should be your well-being.
Anyone who has ever been through any sort of legal proceeding will be quick to tell you that they are draining. Most people understand that they are a burden on finances, at least initially, but very few take into account the “hidden” costs of legal proceedings. Specifically, engaging in bitter legal action can take its toll on a person’s emotional, spiritual, and even physical health.
An example might help illustrate the point. Let’s say a single father spends years fighting his former employer in court. As he does so, he fails to notice how progressively distant he is when it’s his turn to have visitation with his two elementary-age kids. Once the lawsuit has been settled to his satisfaction, he turns around only to find that his kids are now in middle school and far less interested in spending time with him. He won, yes, but he arguably lost a lot more than he won.
Concluding Thought: The Power of Perception Over Reality
Of course, it’s always important to stand up for yourself and do the right thing whenever someone seeks to take unfair advantage. That’s why we have a legal system.
However, there are many different means for doing the right thing that do not involve contentious, expensive litigation.
Far too often, people who have been wronged go immediately from “gross injustice perceived” to “gonna sue ‘em.” This is an unfortunate outgrowth of living in a litigious society, and it does no one (including you) any favors to act without discernment.
You may well have a legitimate, meritorious reason for taking someone else to court. As someone who seeks to elevate the status of a personal brand, however, it’s important that you consider the impact legal action might have on others’ perceptions of that brand. Again, if the reality of your situation is 100% solid but the perceived influence of your personal brand takes a hit, will you really “win,” regardless of the best possible legal outcome?
Image Credit: Sora Shimazaki; Pexels; Thanks!