Personal branding for lawyers: Beyond the business card

You already have a personal brand – you just may not know it yet. It is already influencing your relationships with colleagues and contacts, affecting which clients you win and retain, whether you get that next promotion or new job. Can you afford to ignore it?
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Why do you need to take control of your brand?

You may think you don't need to worry about your personal brand, as you already have a brand as part of the solicitors' profession: experts in our field, honest and honourable, client-focussed and so on, just as the public and businesses expect. Your firm may also have a brand identity which you're part of. Being part of a global law firm in central London, for example, carries a certain cachet, but you might find it a bit tricky if your values are at odds with those of the organisation you are working for or if the organisation acquires media notoriety for whatever reason.

Your personal brand is different. It's unique to you. It's how others perceive you, and that perception will affect everything from the quality of your relationships with colleagues, to the clients you win and keep.

You have an amount of control over those perceptions by building and maintaining an effective, positive personal brand. It will also help you be the best version of yourself. If you have a brand which reflects negatively on you, it can continue to define you and be difficult to shake off. We can all name the people who drink too much and behave badly at conferences. They may be the finest of lawyers but the rest of us will remember them as being held upright in the toilets or falling flat on the dance floor … and these days everyone has a camera phone.

You only need to look to some of the most famous lawyers currently and in the recent past to see how brand can make you – or indeed break you. Nick Freeman (Mr Loophole), Gareth Peirce (human rights activist), Marilyn Stowe (divorce lawyer) and the late Rex Makin (solicitor and philanthropist) are key examples of strong personal brand and reputation. By contrast, Professor Phil Shiner's positive contribution and good work will probably always be overshadowed by the misconduct charges, which cost him his career and reputation.

What is your personal brand?

To understand your personal brand, ask yourself the following questions and commit the answers to paper.

  1. What do you excel at? Are you a natural advocate? Do you have superlative forensic skills?

  2. What are your strengths? Can you explain things simply in a way others can understand? Do you have great leadership qualities? Are you particularly strong in emotional awareness?

  3. What drives you to succeed? A sense of justice and fairness? The potential for high earnings?

  4. What are you known for – what's your reputation? Do you always meet deadlines? Take time to support others? Or are you the person who doesn't return calls, is consistently late and often rude?

  5. How do you behave? Are you unfailingly courteous? Or do you sometimes have difficulty managing angry outbursts?

Answering these questions honestly will give you an idea of your personal brand. As with most things worth doing, it does require a little effort and some honest self-reflection – branding is about being authentic and being the best possible version of yourself.

But it would be a mistake to rely only on your own perceptions of yourself. Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, said that your brand is 'what other people say about you when you are not in the room'. Ask someone you trust for feedback about how you come over and what people think you stand for. Feedback is a gift which is not always given, and still less treasured when it is, but in the context of branding it is a good place, if not the best place, to start.

How can you manage your personal image?

Image is the packaging for your personal brand and provides clues to it. As such, it should be guarded fiercely. You must also ensure that your image is completely consistent with the brand you aspire to.

So what is your image? Are you smart and well turned-out? Or are your shoes scuffed and down at heel? Do your clothes and accessories deliver the gravitas that you want? What image does your social media presence present?

How can you maintain your brand?

Building and promoting a positive brand is an ongoing activity, it needs to be worked on, but it is worth it.  Branding isn't about changing yourself in to something you aren't, it is being clear about your strengths and weaknesses, deciding what you are passionate about, what positives you can bring to any situation and being consistent.

Are you the person who can be relied upon to craft a perfectly drafted document or negotiate complex points with difficult people or fetch a round of coffees?   If you don't know what it is you are especially good or bad at, then ask for feedback and act on it. It is said that George Carman QC was meticulous in preparation and would engage in self-reflection at the end of every day in court .He would ask himself what worked, what didn't and what he could do to improve. His fame and reputation speaks for itself. He worked on himself as well as on his cases.

How can you use your brand?

None of us have any control of our age, gender or many other aspects of how we are perceived, but there is something about our personal presence, our gravitas and personal credibility that makes a difference. Branding is about working out what you stand for, what your skills and strengths are, how you want to be perceived and then being true to yourself. Your personal brand will follow you through your career and will influence your career development, giving it the attention it deserves will pay dividends.

Penny Owston and Pamela Young ran a seminar for in-house lawyers on personal branding on 7 September at the Law Society

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