In the legal sector, it's not just about what you know, but who you know and how you present yourself to them. Rachel Brushfield explains how to build a useful network of contacts, and market and brand yourself effectively to them to achieve your career goals
Marketing yourself is essential. At the start of your career, you need to market yourself to get a place at your chosen university or law school. At senior levels, it is an essential skill for influencing key stakeholders. If you are changing career direction - for example, moving from private practice to in-house - it is vital to overcome any barriers or objections.
It's not something we get taught at school, university or law school, but it is a prerequisite for success in your career and when becoming self-employed. Confident and competent self-marketing, networking and personal branding need to form part of your continual personal and professional development (CPD). In November 2016, the CPD regime for the legal profession changed so you need to make time to reflect, set learning objectives, source appropriate learning solutions and monitor your own progress.
What is 'marketing yourself'?
Marketing is about putting yourself in the shoes of your target audience and seeing yourself through their eyes - what's in it for them?
To do self-marketing well, you need an integrated, joined-up approach. You need to be skilled at marketing yourself both verbally and in writing. You also need to use your research skills to find out as much as possible about your target career, employer and role.
The online world has opened up opportunities exponentially to build your profile and be seen. Consider writing blogs, articles, white papers and LinkedIn Pulse posts; these are great ways to build your specialism and following, and influence decision-makers. Expertise, whether in a client type, specific client problem or legal specialism, can be the grain of sand that creates the pearl of a sought-after niche and potential personal brand. What do you want to be 'the go to person' for?
What stops people from marketing themselves?
Blocks are common, especially among lawyers, and this is generally magnified among women, who perceive marketing themselves as pushy and arrogant. Instead, they work hard and hope to be noticed and rewarded. But remember the saying: 'hope is not a strategy.' I have worked with clients who describe marketing as a 'necessary evil' and associate it with used car salesmen. Unsurprisingly, lawyers who think like that don't do very much, and this can be costly for their career success.
Other common blocks include:
- lack of time
- lack of confidence
- fear of public speaking
- an 'allergy' to networking
- fear about getting it wrong or looking stupid
- an excess of humility or modesty
- lack of self-awareness
- unclear goals.
Working with a marketing coach, getting a work buddy or doing a skill swap are useful ways to improve your marketing skills.
What is a personal brand and why do you need one?
A personal brand is the territory that you occupy in the hearts and minds of your target audience.
If your desired career transition is with your current employer - such as a promotion or moving to another practice group - your target audience is the decision-makers for roles. If it is a move externally - for instance, as a lateral hire to a different law firm - your target audiences are recruitment agencies, and the decision-makers for your desired role(s).
The best personal brands are emotive, and sum up the benefit you bring. They need to be relevant, distinctive and compelling. Two examples of lawyers with personal brands are Chrissie Lightfoot - 'The Naked Lawyer' and 'The Entrepreneur Lawyer' - and Nick Freeman, who helps celebrities to evade driving bans, with the personal brand 'Mr Loophole.'
The world of work is changing fast, and, increasingly, employers are recruiting on an as-needed basis. This means that resourcing sites for professions and specialisms will grow in number.
How do you create a personal brand?
There are four stages to creating a personal brand.
1. Understand yourself - develop deep self-awareness
Undertake an information-gathering exercise on your skills, knowledge, experience, personality, specialisms, etc. Consider not just what you are good at, but the particular elements of your skillset that you want to present to your chosen audience.
People often find it hard to see themselves objectively, and understand what makes them unique and who this is useful for, so working with a coach or another expert can be helpful. Failing that, ask colleagues, friends and family members - whoever you trust - to sense-check your assumptions about yourself.
2. Understand your target audience(s)
Work out what they need from you, especially in terms of their problems or 'pain points'. Research and then define your target audience through a variety of measures, including demographics, attitudinal, geographical and other factors, and then stand in their shoes and look at yourself through their eyes. This is invaluable when defining your personal brand.
3. Find the intersection
Where does what they need intersect with how you can help? I call this the 'sweet spot'. Mapping this out visually can be useful. You also need to understand who your competitors are so that you are clear about what makes you different or better than them in helping cover that sweet spot.
4. Articulate what makes you different and better
Articulate your personal brand, and that 'sweet spot', with clarity, and in as few words as possible. You can also have a supporting statement which expands on your short personal brand. This helps people to remember you when they have much information to manage, and to become the 'go-to' expert for your desired specialism.
Why it is important to leverage your network
Success in your career is not just about what you know - your specialist legal knowledge - but also who you know: your network.
Many jobs are filled through word of mouth. If you are changing career direction, it is especially important to have a 'warm lead in'. Many recruitment agents and human resources teams put people in a convenient 'box' and go for an obvious 'exact fit' candidate', rather than a 'wild card' or choice that is less obvious, because the obvious choice is easier to make. The less obvious option may take thought and persuading others, but it may be a better choice to effect change and inject fresh thinking.
Head-hunters can be a crucial target audience to get yourself onto the shortlists for senior posts, but some are hard to access unless you are 'in the know', Getting on their radar, as a result of well-connected people in your network 'selling you in', is incredibly useful.
We all know that competition is increasing in the legal sector because of trends such as unregulated providers, but cross-sector trends in the world of work are further increasing the pressure.
One trend is towards many tasks and jobs being replaced by technology, computers and artificial intelligence or robots. The utilisation of younger and cheaper employees and so-called 'lean' practices is another.
Interesting, well paid, high prestige 'trusted advisor' senior lawyer roles are highly prized, yet increasingly fewer in number, with a lot of competition. Mastering and making time for self-marketing, leveraging your network and creating your personal brand will help to ensure that you are on the recruitment shortlist if employed, or secure projects if self-employed.
If your career aspirations include becoming self-employed, whether freelancing, doing contracts or setting up your own law firm or online business for example, confident and competent self-marketing and networking are a must.
How to leverage your network
Start by categorising people in your network, such as:
- people who are close to decision-makers ambassadors
- recruitment agents
- career coaches
You now need to manage and monitor your communications with your network. You could set up an Excel spreadsheet, use a contact management system or create your own labels (tags) on LinkedIn.
Another option is to set up your own network and arrange meetings - quarterly dinners, for example - to connect, share and support each other. This could be alumni from your law school, peers from your former firm or in-house department, or a sector-specific network with diverse professionals, both lawyers and non-lawyers.
Reciprocity is important: help others, so that when you need help they are happy to give it, and it isn't a 'one-way street' or selfish. Different people will give you different things: it could be insight, information, inside knowledge (such as new roles being created), promotion schedules, a confidence boost, or a gateway to other useful contacts.
Make time for careful, thorough planning and preparation about what you want to find out and who the best person to help you to achieve your career goals is. Think through how to phrase your request or question and who and when to ask, so they will respond when they are not 'knee deep' in an all-night case or just about to go on holiday or maternity/paternity leave.
Be clear and specific about your objective to yourself, and phrase your request to your contact appropriately in order to achieve that objective. This will help ensure that people in your network help you both happily and expediently.
Blocks about asking your network for help
Many people have blocks about asking for help. This is especially common among lawyers, who often hate showing weakness or conceding. If you relate to this, then spending time understanding what your beliefs and concerns are about asking for help will reap dividends. Asking for help does not show weakness; it shows confidence and proactivity.
There is always a good reason behind not marketing yourself or putting it off. It can be fear of failure, fear of success, perfectionism or not feeling 'good enough'. What have you got to lose? Exploring this vital topic can make the difference between your career taking off or nose-diving. Most people are happy to help if approached in the right way, at the right time, and not too often.
What's the cost of not marketing yourself, leveraging your network, and not creating a personal brand? In an uncertain, competitive world and global talent market, it is too much to risk.
What one action will you take from reading this article to become a 'go-to person' for your specialism and create a secure future for yourself? Go for it - you deserve it. You work hard enough, don't you?
- Create a 'verbal business card' - what you reply when asked 'what do you do?' - which is both accurate and memorable to use when networking.
- Identify and transform any confidence blocks about marketing yourself - either actual blocks like time, or perceived ones like know-how.
- List your features (practical) and the benefits (emotional) you bring.
- Practise articulating your key messages with people you trust.
- Define career capital goals - actions that will build your marketability over time.
- Create a personal marketing plan.
- Brainstorm what makes you unique: skills, work and life experiences, knowledge, approach, etc.
- Define your specialism.
- Sum yourself up in three words.
- Choose three images that evoke the benefits you bring.
- Choose an image for your LinkedIn profile that reflects the image you want to present of yourself.
- Create three key messages that sum up why your talents are useful and beneficial, and share them with key stakeholders and influencers.
Leveraging your network
- Set a regular time to catch up with your network.
- Segment your network into 'hot', 'warm' and 'cold', and prioritise your time accordingly.
- Tag (categorise or label) your LinkedIn connections so it is easier to send targeted rather than general emails.
- Set a SMART goal to meet key influencers for your professional specialism.
- Email your LinkedIn connections an update every six months, and ask them to update you about themselves.
- Pinpoint and transform limiting beliefs about asking for help.
Rachel Brushfield is a career strategist and coach, and published author. She is 'talent liberator' at Energise - the Talent Liberation Company