What is personal branding – and why does it matter for lawyers?
Personal branding is the things people say about you when you’re not in the room. This can include:
- ‘She’s great at mentoring junior lawyers.’
- ‘He’s worked in Asia and knows how things work over there.’
- ‘She does a lot of first-to-market deals – she’s not intimidated by it at all.’
Put simply – your personality, experience and interests are your personal brand. It’s made up of the qualities that represent who you are, and how those qualities are perceived by others.
So why should personal branding matter to lawyers?
That’s because law is a ‘people’ industry – meaning lawyers are in the business of doing business with other people. Having a strong personal brand helps build better business relationships.
Lawyers are hired by people to provide expert advice on how to solve large complex problems. Because the stakes are high, people only want to work with those they can trust.
Your personal brand matters to people including your:
- Current and prospective clients, and
- Future employers.
Consider the following two scenarios:
- In scenario #1, you are an excellent shipping lawyer, but no one knows.
- In scenario #2, you are an excellent shipping lawyer, but lots of lawyers at your firm and other firms know that you are an excellent shipping lawyer.
The first scenario is good but not effective. Only the second scenario can successfully lead to attracting new clients and job opportunities.
In other words, your personal brand is the best way to rally the right people behind your long-term career goals – goals that you can’t achieve just by showing up for work every day.
Now that you understand why personal branding is so important, let’s talk about how to improve your personal brand in 4 simple steps.
Step 1: Identify your existing strengths
Personal branding is made up of more than just your hard skills.
Yes, your strengths as a lawyer are related to your area of expertise.
However, skills and experiences beyond being industry-specific are still important.
Dorie Clark provides a fantastic example of this in her
’s Harvard Business Review article on personal branding
Clark describes how a woman shifted from a non-profit career to an engineering career. She did so by talking about her work with communities hit by large infrastructure projects in the interview.
To capture the interest of the engineering industry, she knew she must also present her non-engineering experience as a valuable quality.
Instead of saying that she was ‘experienced at running a small non-profit’, the woman shared her experience working with communities affected by infrastructure projects.
That made her stand out from the competition.
Working abroad, further education and work experience strengthen a lawyer’s personal brand because they demonstrate knowledge and skills that stand out from the crowd.
What’s your unique strength? Think about your interests and experience and write down the 3 best things that come to mind you’ll need these for Step 2.
Step 2: Choose a destination
Now that you’ve identified some of your best experiences, interests and traits, you need to decide where you want to go professionally.
Your personal brand is a tool, so plan how you are going to use it to your benefit.
If your goal is to work in-house at a Fortune 500 company, your personal brand will be quite different from someone whose goal is to make partner at a boutique litigation firm.
Committing to a single career goal may sound difficult. So speak to colleagues and peers in areas you’re interested in, and determine whether it matches your strengths, interests and qualities. This should make the decision easier.
Start of by selecting two to three potential career goals that you are happy with. Set a medium-term goal that allows you to pursue any of them once you gain some experience and ideas about where you want to go in the future.
This will help you to take the next step in building a compelling personal brand.
For example, I might decide to become ‘Singapore’s go-to shipping lawyer by 2025’.
Now that you have a goal, you need to put your strategic cap on and think about how you can match your strengths and personal traits to desirable to this role.
Step 3: Map out 2-3 tangible ways to prove yourself
Evidence speaks louder than words.
It is one thing for me to say that I am the country’s best shipping lawyer on my firm website and another thing for me to:
- Be listed as a ‘rising star’ of shipping law in national lawyer rankings;
- Have an article published in a peer-reviewed shipping law journal;
- Present on shipping law at trade association/industry events;
- Draft law reform submissions for shipping legislation;
- Share engaging and entertaining shipping
Proving your value and expertise as a shipping lawyer – or any kind of lawyer – involves a serious amount of unpaid work.
But while the work isn’t ‘paid’ by financial exchange, the outcome is worth it in terms of your visibility, network and credibility. Hard work pays off by attracting more business to grow your firm.
The last suggestion about social media content creation may sound confronting for some readers.
This is understandable, given that not everyone is good at or enjoys doing social media and PR, and it requires effort to see a good ROI.
In brief, it’s worth investing in a social media strategy and upskilling on some of the basics. You can get started with these three tips in The use of social media for personal branding here.
Step 4: Create a believable ‘story’
As you start to create your personal brand, you’ll run into a surprising speed bump.
Making new connections and proving your credentials can be easy.
The hard part is demonstrating your new personal brand to your old contacts.
You’ll need to craft a compelling ‘story’ that shows why you’re taking a new career direction or investing in a particular niche area of the legal industry.
Pick an experience that inspired your career journey or goals.
If you’re taking a new career direction, be prepared to share the reason. Again, demonstrating why and how you got to where you are, will help avoid being perceived as impulsive or inexperienced.
Spend some time to create a narrative that clearly links your new direction to a point in your past. Doing so will win the support of your old contacts – a huge benefit.
Thanks to ‘Personal Branding for Lawyers: The beginner’s guide’, you don’t need to spend hours working out how to improve your personal brand.
Instead, you can start improving your practice and career today – another step closer to winning more referral work from your colleagues.
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