Personal Branding: Tips for Contract Lawyers -- Part 1

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Advice is only worth the value that the listener places on it. While there are many “top tips” and “how to’s” out there for the contract lawyer community – too often they are overly general, non-applicable or downright condescending. Given our years of experience operating within this domain we thought it might make sense to lay some of our tips out – take ‘em or leave ‘em – they are based on decades of experience.

Too often lawyers as a profession neglect and ignore the power of personal branding. To “brand” oneself takes effort and consistency. It also takes an element of a sales and marketing approach – something most lawyers claim not to have the gene for (that, and math). But while we witness a changing legal career landscape with law schools under attack, BigLaw changing hiring dynamics, and an increase in new types/forms of legal services – its seems odd that most lawyers still ignore the value that can be made out of some level of personal branding. This is not all about getting a new job/career either – that is too simple of a goal and one that, quite frankly, requires a combination of many different tactics – and some luck too.

Personal branding has a number of outcomes – all of which can raise the prospect of becoming or remaining gainfully employed. Basically it is a strategy that helps differentiate a contract lawyer from the thousands of others out there. With law schools still graduating roughly 40,000 new JDs every year and traditional law jobs in scarce supply – competitiveness is only increasing.

First two general tips:

#1 – You are a lawyer – be proud but not arrogant. Be a steward of the profession – that is, remember to represent it appropriately. Yes you may be upset and under financial strain but complaining and griping about it is never attractive and only plays to undermine your value as well as that of your profession. That said, remember you are a lawyer – you have accomplished some fairly significant things – graduating law school and passing the bar. Society still views your profession as unique and lofty – even if your immediate reality does not feel like it. So act like the professional you are. Branding always starts with the person – so be as attractive as you can in every way – most importantly your attitude.

#2 – Have an opinion but do not be aggressive. Sometimes the advice in #1 above can be taken too far. Unfortunately, we see this a lot. Some lawyers, for whatever reason, feel the need to act as though they are conducting a cross examination during any given exchange or conversation. It is though they want everyone around them to know that they are a lawyer. Remember, not every topic demands a counter-argument.

Specific tips – social media:

#3 – Facebook: If you use it, use it carefully as it is challenging to keep personal and professional lives separate. What are your controls for your account? How careful are you about curating it? Are you allowing anyone to post on your wall or tag you in photos? Bad news if you are. That is like giving anyone you know the power to brand you they way they want NOT the way you want. You already know that current and future employers – heck even your acquaintances are checking out your FB pages. While it is okay to have personal info – just make sure you are aware of all the controls you have to curate your pages. FB is too often discussed as a liability but it can become an asset. Read your account settings and privacy settings.

#4 – Twitter: No you do not have to become an active user or some twitter-fanatic. Too many people have the wrong impression of Twitter. It can be used skillfully to your advantage with little to no work from you. Simply “follow” people and listen. Use it as a news aggregator to learn about things that matter to you. Think of it as a third ear if you will – one that is always pressed firmly to the ground. You can learn so much from simply following the right people. Now “listening” on Twitter does not necessarily strengthen your personal brand in a direct way. Rather it supports the notion that being more aware of what is happening makes you more interesting, more relevant to others. Ignorance is never a good thing when building or sustaining your brand.

#5 – Blogs: Blogs may be overplayed at this point in time but there are still significant amounts of value that can be wrought from them if used appropriately. You can set your bar low if you write a blog like simply increasing the number of hits one gets when they search for your name. That is always a good thing. If nothing else you want people looking for you to find something other than your LinkedIn profile. Warning – writing a blog takes time but writing even just once a month can help. Pick something you are passionate about. Of course, the more closely aligned it is with your professional goals the better. Writing about your social or personal activities is not a wise choice in this age of the internet does not forget. So pick something you care about or have an intellectual curiosity about. Your goal does not have to be to become the “go to” source for this topic or even to be read by anyone. You want search results plain and simple. If you want to build a following however you will need to write more often- plain and simple.

These are just some tips to use in building and protecting your brand. We deliberately chose to set the bar low for each of them in terms of what one can expect to gain. Our point is that with just a little work and effort a person can impact their personal brand in a positive way. In the future we will get more specific about these and other tips but for now take what we offer heart to heart. Your personal brand is vital – online and in person. If you do not take an active role in crafting it or protecting it you will be left without one or worse a weak one.

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