Building your personal brand and profile

Are you are sitting at your desk, staring at the telephone, and hoping it will ring? Or checking your inbox repeatedly, looking for the subject line: “Counsel Needed — Urgent”? Do you dream of announcing that you have just been retained to handle the next “big case” at your firm — no wait, it’s the next big case that the whole city has been talking about. Well, odds are that if you are sitting at your desk daydreaming, that fabulous new retainer is never going to land in your in-tray. Herewith, I share a few suggestions and thoughts on how to increase your professional profile, and promote yourself in this highly competitive career we’ve chosen.
Building your own profile is not the same thing as leveraging off the existing goodwill of your firm’s name, unless, of course, you are a sole practitioner or you are the named partner. Named partners — you can stop reading now, I expect that you know everything I’m about to say, and these suggestions are likely part of your routine already. This article is meant for the rest of us mere mortals — such as those who are more comfortable immersing themselves in legal writing, or who feel self-conscious and insecure blowing their own horns. So let’s consider some pain-free methods of creating some “brand recognition” in your own name and reputation.

Since it is our reputations that we are selling to most clients, building a positive reputation and name recognition are the essential and fundamental elements in your business development plan. While you will have to carve out some time from your already hectic schedule to work on building your profile, the dividends you will earn in the long run from an increased book of business and strong referral network makes the effort well worth it. So take the wasted hours that you have spent daydreaming and convert them into productively enhancing your professional profile by following these few easy steps.

Improving your e-profile

Online profiles are now well established as the first place that most potential clients will look when they are searching out new counsel. Similarly, other lawyers who come up against you for the first time will be scoping you out online before they make first contact. (Admit it, you do this too!) This electronic preview will undoubtedly include searching for profiles on your firm’s web site, LinkedIn, and any other electronic lawyer referral sources. It is therefore essential that your e-profiles be accurate, up to date, and that they reflect what you want to convey about yourself by way of first impressions.

Once you have taken a first cut at revising your online look, consider it again, this time from a prospective client’s point of view. Before people will hire you, they need to understand what it is you do, and have some level of assurance you can deliver the kind of service that they need. A good professional biography should:

•    Avoid legalese and jargon.

•    Highlight what you can do for the client — explain why you have the skills and abilities that will meet their needs.

•    Promote the practice that you want to have and what you want to be known for, ideally with reference to historical successes that will support your credibility and give potential clients confidence in choosing you to represent them for their cases.

Identify your personal strengths

Next, every lawyer needs to come to terms with their personal styles and strengths in order to identify their own marketing comfort zone. Not everyone is a courtroom brawler or an erudite orator. Similarly, not every litigator enjoys working the cocktail circuit, spending the day golfing, or presenting at continuing legal education programs. Spend a few moments to figure out what kind of marketing suits your personality, and what has worked successfully for you in the past.

Create a personal strength inventory. And here’s a bit of heresy — shed the rest. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, your discomfort will show through and you will not be able to fully project the awesomeness that is you. Focus building your profile in the venues that suit your personality. There are lots of options, and each is equally effective. Consider:

•    Are you good at one on one, and creating strong individual relationships? If so, develop a plan that includes lunches or coffee meetings, and other small group settings.

•    Are you comfortable in larger networking situations? If you are attending cocktail receptions or other large group settings, then plan on arriving early and/or staying late so you can maximize the time you can spend meeting different people. Take other people’s business cards so you can add them to your contacts, and then be sure to maintain the relationship.

•    Do you have strong peer relationships? Team marketing may be a good format for you to pursue.

•    Do you like speaking or teaching? Then seek out opportunities to present at seminars, or offer to deliver individualized presentations on key points of interest for existing or potential client bases.

Make yourself memorable

No matter what course of action you choose, keep in mind your target market — different types of clients will be responsive to different kinds of marketing. But whatever method you decide on, ensure you are delivering a consistent message about yourself, keeping with the persona for which you want to be known.

An important part of how you will be remembered comes from how you are introduced to people. There are a number of strategies that will assist in ensuring that you make a strong first impression, and one that will last.

Think about when you meet someone for the first time. What do you tell them about yourself? Do you look apologetically over their shoulder and mutter, “I’m a lawyer”? Or do you engage the person with an interesting tidbit that will whet the listener’s interest in the cool things you do? Which would you rather hear if you were the audience? Creating an “elevator speech” introduction about yourself may sound hokey, but it works. A good elevator speech lasts no more than 10 seconds, and should captivate your audience and make them want to follow up to find out more about you.

Bad example:    “I’m a commercial litigator at a boutique downtown firm.”
Response: “Oh, well, I think I’ll go refresh my drink, now.”

Better example: “When businesspeople get into a fight with each other, my clients call me in to get them a successful resolution to the dispute.”
Response: “Really, so what kinds of fights have you sorted out recently?”

If you can come up with a personal introduction that encourages people you meet to engage with you, the door opens and allows you to expand on why you are so great at your job. Try to have a canned story in your hip pocket about an interesting case that showcases your talents. By this simple storytelling, you can build confidence and create a more enduring impression. Just be careful — don’t hog the stage and become a bore. Selling yourself should be a process of discovery for the prospective client, not bombarding the person with your highlight reel. A short story with a punchy ending should do the trick to get the ball rolling.

Keep an updated business development plan

Create a written business development plan. It doesn’t need to be complicated. The plan should include a few things that you can realistically accomplish every week. If you formally schedule some time each week to devote to promoting yourself, then you will be more likely to actually do it. Without ensuring that you have dedicated time in your calendar for marketing yourself, you are bound to let this slip to the bottom of your mental “to do” list.

Think of ways to keep yourself on your potential clients’ radar screen:

•    E-mail can be a powerful and easy tool. Forward articles of interest, or tell others when you are going to be involved in a seminar or public forum.

•    Make a few calls. Personal contact is by far the most powerful way to promote yourself and remind others that you are available to take their work.

•    Meet people for coffee, lunch, or drinks.

•    Arrange fun get-togethers with targeted people.

But, importantly, choose business development activities that you enjoy and don’t do the ones that are exhausting, mentally draining, or don’t produce results. You have a limited amount of time, and whatever you do to promote yourself should be a pleasure and not excruciating. Making BD fun should also make it work.

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