It's well-known that people buy branded services and will pay a premium for it. Unbranded products are less desirable and are considered generic. This logic applies to the legal profession, making it essential for lawyers to have personal brands to succeed.
A personal brand has been the key to business success as long as legal services have been offered. It is firmly-established that people choose lawyers whom they know, like and trust.
The benefit of a personal brand is that it enables you to build personal connections. A lawyer who is a brand name can make closer connections with clients prospects and referral sources.
Thanks to the internet and social media, there have never been so many ways to position yourself as “the go-to-lawyer.” But personal brands don't just happen.
A lawyer must take the steps to create and cultivate a personal brand. If you are inactive, you have no brand -- and you have given potential clients no particular reason to choose you.
How to develop a personal brand
Lawyers create a personal brand:
- By the viewpoint you take in their blog posts.
- By the topics you choose to speak about.
- By the updates you retweet on Twitter.
- By the connections you make on Google+ and Facebook.
- By the comments you leave and discussions you start on LinkedIn.
- By the webinars you present.
- By the organizations you belong to.
- By the clients you represent.
It even matters how you look. For example a friend of mine, litigator Lewis S. Wiener who is a partner at Sutherland, makes a point of always dressing in a suit and tie, demonstrating that he is ready to go to court. When clients see him, they see a corporate defense trial attorney -- which is his personal brand.
Take note that your credentials -- schools attended, previous jobs, bar association memberships, jurisdictions where you are admitted and internal positions -- do nothing to establish your brand. These are just “features” -- like a car having four doors.
The thing that attracts clients are “benefits,” such as case histories, results obtained in business organizations, interviews in the media -- that show how you helped others succeed. There are a lot of talented lawyers with a lot of experience, but clients choose brand-name lawyers who have done something for someone else.
Engagement builds your brand
Notice that all the elements of a personal brand are based on engagement. It is one thing to write a blog post that reports a court opinion or trend in the law. It is another thing to adopt a viewpoint and tell readers that you think it's either good or bad for your clients. The viewpoint defines who you are and builds your brand.
Attorney Scott O'Connell in Boston follows class actions on social media. He is the Co-Chair of the Nixon Peabody litigation department and a member of the firm's management committee. “When there are new developments, I'm quick to give my own spin on what I think it means for clients,” he says. “And I'll get it out there through multiple channels. It gets sent by email to clients and contacts, it gets posted to LInkedIn and other social media, and then my firm will use its own distribution channels.”
Engagement is important on social media. Most lawyers do the basics by merely broadcasting an update. However, brand name lawyers respond when someone reaches out to them online. Tony Lathrop, a partner at Moore & Van Allen, is skilled at social media. When someone endorses him or asks to connect on LinkedIn, he responds with “Tell me what's going on with you?” This simple inquiry distinguishes a lawyer from being an online profile into being someone interesting to know.
It can take effort to start a discussion on LinkedIn, but it's easy to leave a comment -- and I assert that it's more effective. By making a constructive, positive comment you engage everyone who is following the discussion and distinguish yourself by what you say.
Ultimately, your clients define your personal brand. I'm pleased to see the trend that more lawyers are naming their clients in their profiles. It isn't necessary to name them all -- just the kind of clients you want more of. A list of representative clients spells out “whom you swim with” and makes similar clients more comfortable with retaining you.
As Tom Peters wrote in Fast Company, “Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You."