Why Your Personal Brand Matters

As lawyers, we are so dedicated to our actual work that we often fail to focus on what gets the work in the door. Part of the reason is that it’s much easier to stay on the practitioner side of the business and avoid the business side. Contributing to this tendency is our work environment and practice setup. Below are three different legal work environments with three different scenarios from clients that highlight the lack of focus on marketing in the legal profession.

Law Firm Lawyers

If you are a lawyer in a medium-size to large firm, you may not have had to deal with client development…yet. In fact, as you read this book you may dismiss certain topics because you do not believe they apply to you. For instance, many law firm lawyers do not care about the firm website or business cards because “someone else at the firm does that for us.” You may have been so busy producing the substantive work that the thought “Where is this work coming from?” or, in marketing terms, “How full is my pipeline?” may never have occurred to you.

Experience has shown that this kind of thinking can be a problem—a bigger problem than most lawyers think. Take Suzie, a client, who is a lawyer at a medium-size law firm.

Client #1, Suzie: Suzie had worked at ABC firm since she graduated from law school. She had spent the last nine years of her litigation career at this firm research-ing and putting together substantive briefs and memos and other motions. Suzie recently made partner at ABC firm, and she was delighted until she heard the terms of her new partnership agreement. Suzie was being asked to bring in three million dollars of new business within three years—to keep her partnership status. Suzie’s problem: she had no experience in bringing in any business over the past nine years, so she did not even know where to start. All she knew was that she was feeling the time crunch and the scrutiny of her fellow partners. What was Suzie to do?

Solo Practitioners

If you are on your own in a small practice or have one to two other lawyers with whom you associate, then your work environment and issues around personal branding are different, but they can lead to the same potential problems.

Client #2, Joe: Joe graduated at the top of his law school class four years ago. Immedi-ately after law school, Joe spent one year working at a large law firm as an associate in the business law section. In that capacity, Joe never directly met with any clients. His main focus was learning the law and drafting vari-ous transactional documents. These documents went to senior associates for review and then on to the partners at the firm.Joe’s firm had to make certain cutbacks due to the economy. As a result, Joe lost his associate job after the first year. He couldn’t find another job in a firm, so he did the only thing he could do—he decided to start his own firm. Joe started the firm with three other associates, two of whom had also been downsized from Joe’s old firm and one with whom Joe had attended law school. Of the four lawyers, only one had any experience interacting with clients. One of them had never worked for a law firm. None of them had ever had to market their services. None of them had ever run a business nor networked. In fact, not surprisingly, neither Joe nor his three partners had any law school course work on marketing/personal brand manage-ment. What were Joe and his three partners to do?

In-House Lawyers

Most in-house lawyers don’t think much about marketing, personal branding, and so on. In the past, by the time they went in-house, they were established as lawyers and working for a company was the final stop in their legal careers. The economic landscape has changed that scenario for most lawyers today. Let’s look at Jane, a former client.

Client #3, Jane: Jane practiced in a law firm as an intellectual property lawyer for five years as an associate before being offered an in-house counsel position by one of her firm’s IP client companies. While at the firm, Jane had focused on substantive IP work and had not found any opportunities in marketing or personal brand development. When Jane went in-house, she spent three years working on substantive IP issues for her client company. Most of her legal work and issues dealt with her internal “client” matters. After three years, her company wanted to promote Jane to the position right below gen-eral counsel. However, the company could not do so until the management saw Jane’s brand as a visionary and thought leader. Jane was panicking. She had no idea how to change her brand from intellectual lawyer to vision-ary leader. What was Jane to do?

All three scenarios have a common issue. Up to this point, Suzie’s, Joe’s, and Jane’s practice of law did not include enough (or any) time for the nonsubstantive business portion of their practice. Their work environment and structure did not emphasize the marketing and personal brand and business development part of legal practice. Thus, the three lawyers in these scenarios had no real skill set upon which to build a business or get promoted.

Your legal business can be divided into two parts:

  1. Fifty percent is about your substantive work product. If you are not able to do the substantive work, then there is no market for you in any way as a lawyer. This fact quickly becomes evident. End of story.
  2. The other fifty percent is about your nonsubstantive work product. What does that mean? If you are unable to get clients, your substantive expertise will not matter. Getting clients is where most lawyers potentially fail regardless of where they work—for a law firm, as an in-house lawyer, or as a solo practitioner. We tend to hang our hats on the notion that we are fabulous practitioners of the law. Got a legal problem? Bring it on. I can solve it!

In fact, as lawyers we tend to take shelter behind our substantive knowledge, as all professionals do. There is comfort in what we know and the areas in which we demonstrate expertise. Often lawyers confess, “I don’t want to market myself. I went to law school to be a lawyer and not to be in marketing.”

That’s great. But what would make me pick you out of the multitude of other lawyers who have the same practice area? The other lawyers have a similar educational background and experience. So what distinguishes you?

The answer rests with the fact that why people hire you initially as their lawyer has nothing to do with your substantive work product. It’s because of the fifty percent that is about you as a person. That’s why your personal brand matters so much. But when we come from a background and a work environment that, for whatever reasons, were not very concerned with our personal brand, it is hard for us, as lawyers, to grasp the importance and magnitude of our personal brand.

Discover Your Personal Brand
This post was adapted from the Law Practice Division’s publication Personal Branding in One Hour for LawyersIn this book, Katy Goshtasbi shares how attorneys can highlight their unique talents and abilities, manage their perceptions, and achieve greater success as a lawyer in the process.

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