What modern lawyers can learn from Dr. Oz

America’s Doctor provides an example of what to do (and what not to do) when crafting your public image

Are you a 21st century lawyer on your way up? Do you have what it takes to succeed as a professional in the age of connectivity? Got blog? How Googleable are you, anyway?

The philosopher once asked “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, did it fall?” Similarly, we may ask ourselves, “If someone does not have a profile on LinkedIn, do they exist?”

Either you are the kind of person who nervously patrols the Web at night looking for something bad about you or you are the kind of person who gets a tingle down your leg every time your name shows up on a search engine hit. The future belongs to the latter. In the 21st century, unless we recreate ourselves in the cyberworld, we lack relevance. Who we are as working professionals, and the opportunities that lie ahead for us, are defined by the composite of our appearances at conferences, in journals and magazines, and, most importantly, on social media and the Internet.

Maintaining a public image is no longer just the business of movie stars and jetsetters. It is the concern of practically every human being on the planet looking to get a start in life, grow a business or advance in a career.

In this day and age we need archetypes who can guide us in embracing digital and social media and crafting public images, without fear or doubt.

In answer, I present to you America’s Doctor, Mehmet Oz.

Unlike most celebrities, Dr. Oz is famous for what he does for a living, namely being a doctor. Oz still operates on patients once a week. He still has to maintain a medical license and live up to a doctor’s ethical duties, the same way lawyers do. It is this synthesis of celebrity, public commentary and identity as a working professional by Oz that has caught my attention as a lawyer. If Dr. Oz can do it, maybe in some meager way you and I can too.

Let’s examine how Dr. Oz became America’s Doctor.

 

Oz the celebrity and Oz the doctor are one in the same. Oz always stays on message about mental and physical health; he doesn’t use his celebrity as a soapbox for spouting off on anything and everything. Oz’s response to the Newtown, Conn., shooting was markedly apolitical. Instead of talking about gun control or violence in video games, Oz focused on the well-being of other children processing the tragic news. Oz remains true to his core identity.

Oz is transparent about himself. Oz is a vegetarian, but not always by his own admission. He attributes his vegetarianism to the influence of his wife. Oz describes himself as a dumpy 6th grader who grew up eating meat and potatoes. He says preparing steak every night was his mother’s way of showing Oz she loved him. Knowing these things about Oz makes him real, likable and believable.

Oz is innovative. Oz challenges the fundamental paradigm of modern medicine without batting an eye. He refers to the medical profession as a fortress that creates barriers between people and treatment. He touts homeopathic and spiritual remedies. But Oz also holds people accountable for their own health. Oz backs the use of information technology in the health system, including co-founding a company called Sharecare.com. Oz is not the stereotypical doctor with a pager on his belt teeing off at the country club.

Oz expects public criticism and doesn’t react to it. Oz doesn’t let criticism stop him. Like Oz, my father was a surgeon, and I can tell you from personal experience that surgeons are some of the most arrogant people around. Whatever factors decide the topic of “Dr. Oz Show” episode or an entry in the OzBlog!, the approval of others isn’t one of them. Surgeons also possess a great amount of self-discipline. I can’t find a single instance of Oz publically calling out someone who disagreed with him.

Oz speaks to people as individuals and as a confidant. Oz uses the pronouns “we” and “you” a lot. He invites regular people on his TV show to give testimonials. Oz talks to you like he was your next door neighbor.

Oz is multicultural. Oz speaks Turkish and is very connected to his Turkish heritage. Oz is also a mainstream American who played American football in high school and college. Oz freely talks about his Muslim beliefs and the similarities he sees with his wife’s Protestantism. He vacations in the Mediterranean and Maine. Acquiring a wide range of sensibilities allows Oz to appeal to a large audience. Oz is not Nancy Grace.

Oz brings passion and energy to his message. Doctors, like lawyers, tend to be dry in how they give advice. It doesn’t make them sound very interesting, though. Oz is, as a rule, either excited or concerned when he talks or writes about health. He is sometimes guilty of using infomercial verbiage to introduce his topics. Oz understands that if he doesn’t grab people’s attention they aren’t going to listen to him.

 

Those are attributes of Dr. Oz’s public persona that you and I can follow in building our own public image, what some people call “personal branding” (a label I don’t like because of its marketing connotations). But not all of America’s Doctor’s attributes are good. There is also, unfortunately, one bad attribute that I cannot leave unmentioned.

The role models that professionals like us seek for successfully building our public image need to also exemplify ethical working professionals. In my opinion (and the opinion of a growing number of others), Oz has failed to stay faithful to his Hippocratic Oath. Just as good lawyers don’t tell things to people unless they are grounded in the law, good doctors don’t tell things to people unless they are supported by scientific evidence. Good lawyers and doctors also know that giving professional advice sometimes means telling people what they shouldn’t do. What people want to hear is often not what they need to hear. Some of Dr. Oz’s advice—red palm oil to extend lifespan, green coffee beans to lose weight—at best will result in what one commentator calls “expensive pee.” At worst, these “as seen on Dr. Oz” remedies can lead people to cling to false hope and choose not to seek out responsible medical treatment.

I know that the American Bar Association and many state bars have issued rules on whether and when media appearances and Web sites create an attorney-client relationship. My personal rule is that anytime I say or write anything that gets printed or posted, each nameless, faceless person who sees or hears what I said becomes my client. Following my rule doesn’t prohibit you from promoting yourself as much as you might think. It simply means that whatever you say or write in public as a lawyer, make sure it isn’t expensive pee. 

Contributing Author

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Eric Esperne

Eric Esperne is counsel for Dell Services and is located in Canton, Mass. He has more than 15 years experience as in-house counsel for government,...

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