Personal branding is a topic gaining traction in the legal world. While many busy lawyers want to learn more about creating and maintaining their own brand, demanding careers and family obligations often prevent us from having time available to take on another seemingly extra project.
But for those looking for a quick how-to, or perhaps a refresher, on personal branding, you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you a professional legal recruiter's - and former practicing attorney's - take on personal branding for lawyers.
What is a Personal Brand for Lawyers?
First, it’s important to understand the meaning of the term personal brand. From there, you are in a better position to develop and promote your own. There are a number of different definitions of the term, but the concept can most concisely be summarized as a community’s image, perception or impression of an individual. As a lawyer, your personal brand is the way you are viewed by your legal community. In other words, your personal brand is your personal reputation.
Why is a Personal Brand Important for Lawyers?
Branding is important for individuals for the same reason it’s important for companies. Corporations know that individuals rely on brand reputation when making purchasing decisions. Similarly, companies rely on the reputation of individuals when making decisions on hiring, promotions, raises, and layoffs.
How Do You Create a Personal Legal Brand?
Before you can begin to build and express your brand, you first need to create it. To begin, it’s best to focus on figuring out what you’re good at and what you’re known for within your community. I recommend the following steps:
- Step One: Self-evaluate. Think about your strengths and areas for improvement. Figure out not only what you think you are good at, but also what you enjoy doing the most in your professional life.
- Step Two: Reach out to others in your professional network, including current or former supervisors, colleagues, peers and direct reports. Encourage them to provide honest feedback regarding your strengths and weaknesses. This can be done in an informal setting as a means to catch up with your colleagues and get direct input.
- Step Three: Reflect on what you learned. Figure out what you’re good at doing to determine your personal reputation. Focus on the things you not only are good at but also that you enjoy, because those are the areas in which you’re most likely to shine.
- Step Four: Put together your personal “elevator pitch,” which essentially is the pitch you would give to sell yourself in 30 seconds or less if someone asked you “Tell me about yourself.” You might take some time to write down your pitch, rehearse it, edit, and polish until you feel comfortable. Depending upon your audience, that pitch might change to suit the message you are looking to convey.
- Step Five: Get the word out! Let people know who you are and what makes you an asset to your community.
How to Build Your Personal Legal Brand
Once you have created your personal brand, it’s time to make people aware of it. Start small. Share your elevator pitch with your online network and your closest connections. Then start to build a bigger online presence by commenting on LinkedIn posts made by your connections, sharing articles on LinkedIn, and of course continuing to build your online network. As you continue building your brand, start writing articles and giving speeches and presentations to continue to advance your presence in your community.
Using Your Brand to Advance Your Legal Career
Building your brand is like putting money away into a savings account for a rainy day. Eventually you will be able to cash out, whether it’s when asking for a raise or promotion, or looking for a new job. Having your elevator pitch prepared and rehearsed prior to your annual review or next job interview likely will make the process a lot less stressful. And remember, don’t be shy about promoting yourself when the situation warrants. Remember that a lawyer is an advocate. When you’re asking for a raise/promotion or interviewing for a new job, it’s definitely appropriate to talk about how great you are.
Build Upon Your Personal Brand Even While Steadily Employed
You never know when you might have an opportunity for an internal promotion and to advance at your firm or company. Also, many employers have a limited amount of money to utilize for raises and promotions each year. If your colleague down the hall is promoting their brand and you are not, that could be a factor when it comes time for raises and bonuses to be determined for members of your department. Also, you never know when your secure job might suddenly become not-so-secure. Within the in-house legal environment, company sales and reorganizations can come with little warning and result in layoffs; and in the law firm environment, mergers can result in conflicts and increased pressure to raise billing rates -- all of which could suddenly leave you looking for a new job without much notice.
The single most important piece of advice I can offer on this topic is to begin building your personal brand before you think you’ll need to rely on it. For most of us, it’s hard to make the time to squeeze anything else into our already busy lives, but if you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of being underpaid, underutilized, or unemployed, you’ll be much better off if you already have a personal brand and an elevator pitch in place.