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The Reputational Advantages of Demonstrating Trustworthiness: Using the Reputation Index with Law Students


Nancy A. Welsh is professor of law at Penn State University, Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle and University Park, Pennsylvania. Her e-mail address is


Lawyers should care about their reputations. But exactly what sort of reputation should lawyers seek to establish and maintain in the largely nontransparent context of legal negotiation? And even if a lawyer has developed a reputation as a negotiator, how will he/she know what it is and how it came to be?

I force my students to grapple with these questions by incorporating the issues of reputation and reputation development into my negotiation/mediation course. I introduced this innovation at the same time that I decided to increase my focus on developing students' skills in distributive (or value-claiming) negotiation. Although legal negotiation certainly offers frequent opportunities for the creation of integrative joint and individual gains, the process will almost inevitably involve distribution. The pie, once baked, must be cut.

As a result, I now base a portion of my students' final grade on the objective results they achieve in two negotiation simulations. Two dangers of this assessment choice are that it can encourage students to focus only on the numbers and, even worse, engage in “sharp practice”— an extreme form of hard bargaining that tests ethical boundaries — in order to achieve the best short-term distributive outcomes. Of course, neither a quantitative focus nor sharp practice is synonymous with a distributive approach to negotiation. Nonetheless, to counterbalance the temptations posed by the focus on, and ranking of, objective results, I also base part of students' final grades on their scores on a “Reputation Index.” These scores are based on students' nominations of their peers, accompanied by explanatory comments.

This article describes the Reputation Index and how I use it. It also explores the empirical support for the validity of the Reputation Index as a tool for simulating the development and assessment of lawyers' reputations in the “real world.” To that end, the article considers research regarding the bases for lawyers' perceptions of effectiveness in legal negotiation, the sometimes counterintuitive distinction between negotiation “approach” and negotiation “style,” and the relationships among perceptions of negotiation style, procedural justice, trustworthiness, and reputation.