What comes to mind when you hear the term “personal brand?” For many lawyers, it conjures up visions of billboards and bus stop advertisements; self-promotion and aggrandizement. The law is a noble profession, and so the idea of aggressively promoting oneself is unseemly and unprofessional.
I agree, to a point. The problem is that while some lawyers take it too far, most don’t take it nearly far enough. The market for legal services is fiercely competitive and lawyers need every edge they can get. A compelling personal brand can provide one.
If you want to build a successful legal practice, there’s no getting around the fact that you need to excel at your craft. Technical and subject matter expertise are the building blocks of business development. Acquiring a high level of skill is the price of entry. That’s step one.
Step two is learning how to package, position and promote your expertise to the marketplace. To stand out, a lawyer must be mindful of both substance (expertise) and form (brand).
To overcome apprehension about focusing on personal branding, it’s important to dispel misconceptions about what it means to develop a powerful presence in the marketplace.
Personal brands aren’t created, they’re crafted. It’s a subtle point, but not a pedantic one. “Creating” a brand suggests that branding is a one-time or short-term event, when it’s really a process – a lifelong one. Brands evolve over time, just as you do.
The reason that personal branding for lawyers often gets a bad rap is due to the cheesy billboard ads, and other forms of breathless self-promotion. A small percentage of lawyers caricature themselves, and in the process scare off others from even thinking about how they’re viewed in the marketplace.
But that’s not branding, at least not in the way that I view it. The cheesy billboard and ridiculous tagline gets cooked up on the whiteboards and notepads of brand and marketing consultants, not from the careful introspection and self-assessment of the individual lawyer herself. Because it’s (by definition) such a deeply personal issue, branding is not something that can be outsourced. It’s when lawyers entrust their brands to others that they get into trouble.
Personal branding, therefore, is not about unprofessional gimmicks and slogans, it’s about clearly, concisely and convincingly (and hopefully interestingly) explaining the value you can provide to those who matter to you.
Developing a personal brand need not be hard. In fact, it’s more a process of discovery than invention. What makes personal branding seem hard – and unseemly – to many lawyers is the mistaken notion that it involves crafting and projecting some ultra-polished image to others, when one’s real self is more rumpled and rough-edged. It’s best to be real, because In order to be effective a personal brand must be authentic.
In the overly manufactured and produced world we live in, people (yes, clients) are starving for authenticity and transparency. And nothing is more authentic or transparent than being yourself, warts and all. Don’t try to be someone you are not — your brand will suffer for it, and it’s unsustainable. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh once said, “The most exhausting thing you can be is inauthentic.”
Be willing to succeed based on who you really are, or be ready to fail based on trying to be something you’re not.
One of the best ways to be authentic is to tell your story, as opposed to reciting your resume. From client pitches, to website bios, to social media engagement, expressing your brand as a story will help build something people care about, can relate to and want to buy into. People connect with stories, they’re memorable and evoke emotion — that’s why lawyers are taught to craft a story through their closing arguments and brief writing.
Storytelling allows you to frame your uniqueness and connect the dots between the client’s needs and the value you provide. It creates loyalty and bonds with clients and colleagues. That’s because in relationships — attorney/client ones included — people crave authenticity and inspiration. A good brand story can deliver both.
You already know your story. It’s not something that needs to be invented or manufactured, just discovered. That may not be easy, but it’s not as hard as you may think.
Crafting your personal brand doesn’t mean being boastful. A well-defined and developed brand simply lets people know who you are and what you’re good at. They’ll know your strengths, the value you provide and the types of situations you’re uniquely qualified to assist with. Once you’ve clearly defined what you do and for whom, you won’t have to chase as much business – it will start chasing you. You’ll go from the hunter to the hunted.
Lawyers with the most effective personal brands don’t talk about and promote themselves – they spend their time focused on their audiences. They establish their brands by solving problems, often for free, faced by clients and prospective clients through their writing and speaking. They are thought leaders.
Their brands are not built on personal boasts, but rather the enthusiastic dissemination of valuable, substantive information. In this sense, almost every lawyer with a powerful personal brand is an expert content marketer. Their reputations are based not on what they take, but on the wisdom that they freely give to others. When the time comes (and it seems to come far more frequently for lawyers with powerful personal brands) clients give generously in return.
How to Know if it’s Working
Okay, let’s fast forward and assume that you’ve bought into the benefits of developing your brand, and have been actively and strategically managing your brand for six months or more. You’ve narrowed your focus, begun presenting yourself differently and more purposefully with clients and prospective clients, improved your Internet and social media presence, put your thought leadership in the public domain, and generally sharpened your brand in line with your expertise. What are some signs you should look for to know whether your efforts are paying off?
1. Other attorneys and professionals will have taken notice, and better understand what you do. You’ll receive more referrals in line with your expertise, and less that are not.
2. Clients, too. As with referral sources, clients and prospective clients will have a better idea of where your expertise lies. They’ll know what you do and how you can help, and new opportunities will reflect that understanding.
3. You’ll be more visible. Because you are a more focused and visible expert in your niche, both online and offline, your content marketing and speaking efforts have likely become sharper and more beneficial. Your ideas are attracting more ears and eyeballs and, consequently, new opportunities to speak and write present themselves.
4. You’ll be more profitable. One of the key factors that drives down prices is the availability of substitutes. As a well-branded expert you’ll be able to charge more.
5. You’ll be more productive. Once you narrow your focus, and focus your energy, you’ll increase productivity. You’ll feel less scattered because you’ll no longer be trying to serve and please everyone.
6. At a minimum, you’ll be more purposeful. Many of us approach our careers without a plan and drift from day to day, then year to year. Before you know it, you’re in a rut that you can’t get out of. By focusing on developing a personal brand that is authentic, bold and unique, you’ll have something to aspire to, and benchmark against, on a consistent basis.
You’ve heard it before: Whether you like it or not you already have a personal brand. The question is, is it working for you?
Want to learn more about personal branding for lawyers? I dive deeply into the topic in my new book, One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Legal Practice. Check it out at www.oneofakindlawyer.com.