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Digital branding for new lawyers

|Written By Arif Mahmood

New lawyers rapidly learn personal relationships are the foundation of professional reputations. However, due to the increasingly compartmentalized practice of law, the number of meaningful interactions professionals have each day may be limited.

As a new lawyer in the field of intellectual property, I believe many young lawyers in similarly specialized fields want to interact with their broader legal community to develop a reputation outside the walls of their firm.

IP concerns intangible property such as trademarks, domain names, patents, and copyright. Unlike physical property, foreign parties may commercially exploit IP without ever setting foot in the owner’s jurisdiction. Practically then, IP must be protected internationally, requiring firms to advise clients on international strategies.

Knowing that IP professionals benefit from exposure to multiple jurisdictions is one of the reasons I participated in the JD/LLB program between Michigan State University and the University of Ottawa. Similarly, my experience as articles editor of the Ottawa Law Review gave me an appreciation for the international networking opportunities legal publishing provides.

My international study and legal publishing experiences led me to develop GlobalIPWatch.com, an electronic publication dedicated to providing a clearing house of international IP developments collaboratively produced by newly minted IP professionals and aspiring law students.

GlobalIPWatch.com aims to provide the IP community with a simple way to monitor and discuss reaction to international developments. I believe many new lawyers could use similar electronic publications to comment on developments on their own fields and invite reaction from colleagues.

Such dynamic projects provide a valuable opportunity to interact with a broader, yet specialized, legal community; a forum I wish existed when I first became interested in IP.

Collaboration is the best type of networking

Starting an electronic publication provides a unique opportunity for the best kind of networking: collaboration.

Inviting colleagues to contribute can produce a specialty publication reflecting the state of a particular legal community. Collaboration can also cross lines of seniority by providing accomplished professionals a chance to play a larger role in a new project, rather than a small role elsewhere.

Lastly, electronic publications offer law students and new lawyers volunteer research and editing opportunities, allowing them to demonstrate professionalism under informal circumstances. Collaboration also greatly increases the initial awareness of a publication and makes it easier to expand through professional networks.

You never run out of digital business cards

Electronic publishing is an innovative way professionals can brand themselves within their particular legal community, beyond the confines of their firm, city, or even country.

Just as client development is valued in partners, new associates must invest in their own reputational development early in their career. In the age of transient stints at firms, most lawyers can no longer rely on a firm’s reputation to underwrite their career.

Electronic publications can serve as a professional interface, a digital business card.

This starts with a solid domain name. While most simple .com domains are already registered, unique domains are still available with a little creativity and research.

Additionally, lawyers and other professionals are qualified to register .pro domain names, which cost approximately $40 per year from reputable registration web sites.

However, the danger of using a .pro domain version of an already registered .com name is the third party may see an opportunity to divert readers down the road unless the domain is bought for a premium price. For serious projects it may be wise to register multiple variations of the domain and several extensions like .net, .org, and .ca, which, while less costly individually, increase the total start-up costs.

Since anyone can see upcoming expiry dates of registered domains by performing a “whois” search at most domain registrar web sites, if the expiry date is near, it is easy to wait and see if the registration expires. If the owner re-registers the domain (possibly for several years), many domain registrars also allow users to make anonymous offers.

The Internet is the great equalizer

Many senior law firm partners are likely a generation behind the technological prowess of the average new associate, who, while in law school, was keenly aware of the “is no longer in a relationship” Facebook update.

Electronic publications allow tech-savvy professionals to bypass traditional law firm marketing entirely and control their own interface and image.

There are several free “blog publishing” programs that are relatively straightforward to install on a host server (after studying the installation guide) and that allow powerful yet simple publishing.

While some might hesitate when hearing “blog,” it is easy to use these powerful programs to create a professional and polished interface.

The most popular free options are WordPress, Blogger, and b2evolution. The presentation of each program is customizable with many different layouts and colour themes freely available. With a little knowledge of a graphic design program like Photoshop, it is also easy to replace stock images with custom photos.

Crossing borders and jumping boundaries

As the successful practice of IP is heavily based on “associate work,” international reciprocity between firms where each sends files to the other in exchange for similar consideration, even a small following of foreign IP professionals can open the door to potential business.

Instead of being another generic sounding law firm even a small flash of recognition remembered from a Google search that led to the electronic publication could be the difference between the firm receiving an inquiry e-mail and the foreign contact looking elsewhere.

Specialization is the trend, and the trend is specialization

Like most professions, lawyers are specializing more and more, even within full service firms. Electronic publications provide an excellent opportunity to create niche communities unbounded by geography.

Since specialized lawyers have less interest in actively following other areas of law, they value the opportunity to filter out unrelated developments and track specific areas of law. Personal electronic publications allow lawyers to author novel and creative initiatives, like surveys of practitioners on current topics, taking the initiative to publish data examining trends in recent decisions, and even promoting discussion on the current job market (anonymously if needed).

Sponsorships never hurts

If an electronic publication is fortunate enough to gain a stable following of legal professionals it may be possible to approach a firm for sponsorship. This could serve to recoup the non-billable time investment and operating costs (which grow with a publication) while giving the firm a platform to market itself to a very relevant readership at a relatively low cost.

An alternative approach would be to invite a partner to regularly participate as a guest contributor, for it is far easier for a firm to consider sponsorship where a senior lawyer is involved.

Investing in your reputation

New lawyers have opportunities to brand themselves which were unimaginable just 10 years ago. For lawyers entering specialized fields like IP, the ability to reach across their particular legal community via personal electronic publications requires only initiative and creativity. The ability to host a stable platform to showcase your development is invaluable to new lawyers looking to forge ahead in competitive fields.

Arif Mahmood is managing editor of GlobalIPWatch.com and a student-at-law with Shapiro Cohen in Kanata, Ont.

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