Have you ever put yourself in a prospective client’s shoes? Why would he, she or it hire you? Seriously, why? I’m sure you’re a good lawyer but (a) how would a prospective client know that and, perhaps more importantly, (b) can most prospective clients, at the point of purchase, discern between an average lawyer and a good one, or even a great one?
Consciously or not, most lawyers make a choice to craft professional personas that are largely indistinguishable from others. From their new business pitch to their website bio, they purposefully look, sound, act and describe themselves in a similar manner. This poses a dilemma for clients: When confronted with a commodity, how to make a choice?
The paradox is that sellers of actual commodities do the exact opposite of lawyers. They compete fiercely on grocers’ shelves, for example, to stand out from their competition. Only by standing out, they understand, can they capture a greater share of market.
That’s not to suggest that lawyers are commodities. There are good and there are bad. Young and old. Serious and quirky. Introverts and extroverts. The profession teems with professionals of wildly different backgrounds, experiences and levels of expertise. But it often does not appear that way to clients looking from the outside in.
Having the benefit of near daily interactions with other lawyers, those in the profession can quickly and easily distinguish between someone who is the real deal and another who is a wannabe. But while the reputation you earn among your colleagues is undoubtedly important, the ultimate challenge is convincing the client who signs the checks of your worth.
In order to accomplish this, a lawyer must position herself to prospective clients as someone who is uniquely qualified to help solve a particular problem. In other words, lawyers must work on their personal brands.
WHAT IS A PERSONAL BRAND?
There’s no great dictionary definition of what a brand is. One of the most often cited colloquial definitions is attributed to Jeff Bezos (among others): “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
In this sense, a lawyer’s brand is integral to a primary source of new business: word of mouth and referrals. Your personal brand is what sells you when you’re not there to sell yourself.
THE MAKING OF A POWERFUL PERSONAL BRAND
So what goes into the making of a compelling personal brand? There are three primary elements: Authenticity, Boldness and Uniqueness.
Authentic. People crave 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.
Bold. At the same time, your brand story should be more manifesto than bio. Your narrative should describe not just where you are in your life and career, but where you want to go. It should be aspirational. Think of it as goal-setting. By being bold you’ll not only stake out new ground for yourself, but you’ll create some personal accountability, too. Your career objective is no longer an abstract in your mind, but a crucial element of your brand story.
Unique. Large, full-service law firms that are all structured similarly, offer similar services and serve similar markets and industries have difficulty – with good reason – developing a brand that convinces audiences they are different in any meaningful sense. That’s not to say it’s impossible, or that some don’t do it extremely well, but it’s hard. A narrowly focused expert, on the other hand, can move past generalities, hyperbole and embellishments and develop a brand that draws notice. You’re an original – your brand should be also.
IS IT WORKING?
Let’s say 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 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?
- Other attorneys and professionals – inside and outside your firm – 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Your personal brand is one of the most valuable assets you have as a lawyer. It is the amalgam of qualities, characteristics and traits that are the essence of who you are, both professionally and personally. It’s the story you get to tell.
In today’s marketplace, clients are hiring lawyers, not law firms. Your firm has a brand, but so do you. And so as a lawyer it’s incumbent upon you to not solely rely on your firm selling you – you need to sell yourself by developing a powerful personal brand.
You have a brand, whether you like it or not. The question is: Are you willing to take ownership over it?