We recently published the Masterclass in law firm marketing eBook. If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, it’s free to download. You can request it right here:
In this eBook, we explored the concept of branding as it applies to law firms. A company’s brand is much more than a logo or a website. Rather, it is the expression of attitudes, values, and beliefs.
Your own personal/professional brand is similar, but not identical.
We all want to present ourselves to the world in a way that is authentic and comfortable. Yet, when it comes to personal, professional branding, we may desire to tweak our “street self” in order to have people see us for the professional we are and want to be.
Keep in mind, we’re not asking you to change your entire personality for somebody else, nor are we suggesting that you acquiesce if an employer demands that you become something other than a purely, authentically you.
What we are talking about here is different. It’s about building your identity as a professional and recognizing that your professional identity may, by choice, be different from who you are during evenings and weekends.
I’ll start by using myself as an example.
Exhibit A: the shy hippie who became a business litigator in a conservative county
I grew up in rural, Northern California in the 1970s.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I identified quite heavily with a free-spirited, hippie culture. I was also a very shy and introverted person who preferred libraries to dinner parties.
I was hired by a very conservative law firm in my state’s most conservative county. To work there, I had to wear conservative skirt-suits and attend country club charity balls, even though I was much more comfortable wearing flowing skirts and attending Reggae concerts.
Why would I do this?
Simple – I wanted the job, and I made a choice to build my professional brand to suit my professional life over my personal preferences.
Ultimately, my professional brand involved being a tough-as-nails trial lawyer who had some “eccentricities” away from the office. That brand served me well throughout my career, and I never felt like I compromised myself to play that professional role. To me, it was a very comfortable interplay between my personal and professional ways of being.
So, how do you find your balance? Let’s talk about it.
Recognize your personal-professional brand for what it is and what it isn’t
These days, there is a large and wonderful emphasis on personal identity in the U.S.
That’s not what we’re talking about here.
When we talk about professional branding, we’re talking about the marketable strengths that define you as a legal professional. In other words, your professional brand should be tightly associated with the type of legal professional you want to be, not just the type of person you want to be.
For example, if you want to be your firm’s go-to paralegal, you need to step back and think about what a go-to paralegal does.
Does that person work long hours?
Does that person finish the assignments they’re given competently?
Does that person hang out at the water cooler for an hour a day gossiping about other employees?
Not a chance.
You don’t have to fit this description to have a brand. There’s plenty of value in being the paralegal that pulls the firm together and helps create a positive culture, or the one that’s always ready to help a teammate, or the person who has valuable connections to people in other offices.
Consider what makes you most valuable. That’s a strong foundation for your brand.
Identify who the customers are for your professional brand
Next, you’ll want to think long and hard about who is buying your brand.
Using our prior example, if you want to be your firm’s go-to paralegal, then the “customers” of your brand are the lawyers in the firm who are most likely to give you assignments.
By observing these people closely, you can figure out a lot about how they like to work and what they expect from the paralegals they choose to work with from case-to-case. Set your course for becoming a stand-out employee in the eyes of these potential customers.
Keep in mind also that humans (including law bosses) are hardwired to surround themselves with similar people.
This means that you should either strive to work with and for people who are naturally similar to you or be prepared to tweak your professional brand to dovetail with those of your bosses.
For this shy hippie, tweaking of my brand was necessary in order to work with the most powerful litigators in my firm. You can choose to do the same, or you might be able to find a firm where the people with whom you want to work are a more natural fit. Most likely, you’ll do a little bit of both.
Stay on-brand at work and in the legal community
Finally, remember that one of the most important aspects of any brand is consistency.
When you are a young legal professional, you may need to try on a few different brands (and different jobs) to see what works for you. Once you find your sweet spot, however, you’ll do yourself a big favor by sticking with that brand.
The main reason for this is that consistency creates trust.
Think about it for a second.
If you want your brand to be “the go-to paralegal in your firm,” yet 40% of the time you flake out on your assignments, your customers (i.e., your law bosses) will probably stop buying your brand.
On the other hand, if you strive to finish every assignment early, competently, and with a good attitude, stock in your brand will rise quickly and remain strong through the years.
Professional branding is sometimes complex, particularly if your professional brand differs from your personal brand. That said, giving thought to building and maintaining your brand can only accentuate your successful career.