Brand You, Social Media and Legal Practice ~ Part I

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel in the least bit offended, demeaned, or dehumanized by the thought of Brand You or Brand Me, Or Me Inc., another of my favorites. To the contrary, I think Brand You/Brand Me/Me Inc. ties me rather directly to the Pilgrim Fathers, Ben Franklin, and Steve Jobs – which is a lineage that I far prefer to Organization Man … let alone Cubicle Slave!”

Tom Peters

None of us fall into the esteemed company of Messrs Peters, Franklin and Jobs but, whether you like it or not, you are Your Brand (I prefer the term Brand You).

At its most elemental, it is comprised of: they way you look, the things you say, how you dress, the people that you mix with, your external interests, your accouterments, the things that you produce, the area of professional practice you are involved with (litigators all seem to come with the obligatory Rottweiler label), the firm that you work for and your results. It goes without saying that it is multi-layered, multi-facted and multi-dimensional.

However, one way to look at your brand is to write out, in a sentence, what it is that you stand for; or another option, as macabre as it might sound, is to imagine how someone would describe you at your funeral.

In case you have never heard it read or seen it before, this is the famous Alfred Lord Tennyson poem Crossing the Bar. I heard it at a funeral many years ago.

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.


Returning to the issue of Brand You.

My brand might say:

“Intensely driven, passionate, competitive but could be a bit too demanding sometimes.”

Now of course, there are many more subtleties to my brand than that one sentence but it hopefully gives you an impression of me – good  or bad.

The point is: it is possible to distil your talents, foibles and eccentricities into something that is recognisable, and if necessary, it is something that you can work at developing particularly if, like me, you are trying to reinvent or repackage Brand You. I do not believe that Brand You is immutable and frozen in time.

Although slightly removed from the issue (but it does illustrate a point apropos the sameness of lawyers and a lack of attention to Brand You) compare my sentence with the meaningless description of a lawyer that appears on practically every law firm website:

“[Name] deals with a wide range of employment matters including Employment Tribunal litigation, HR policies and procedures, disciplinary and dismissal situations, grievance issues, employment contracts, and compromise agreements. However, s/he most regularly advises upon and has a particular interest in unfair dismissal claims and redundancies.”

Now I know this is two sentences but what on earth does it tell me about the person? No, I mean really?

I would have to deduce a heck of a lot to decide whether this person was the sort of person I could work with, if s/he understood my business, had a reputation beyond simply doing what every other employment lawyer did and could I trust them.

You get my point.

This is not a question of semantics – or at least I hope not. No, it is about trying to think through the issues of your brand and what you should be saying to properly represent your persona.

Now there will those reading this who will disagree or certainly make the point that a firm is nothing more than a collection of its people and it is vitally important for everyone to be on message. I am not sure.

Is it going to dissuade a client from instructing you because you don’t sound like or look like the rest of the lawyers? If anything, I would say, and as counter-intuitive as it might appear, the more individuality that you can imbue in the profile the more likely it is that the client will instruct you or at least consider finding out more about you.

Perhaps I am expecting too much. But surely it is not beyond the wit of every person who has a hand in creating this banal stuff to think just that bit harder about Brand You.

Once you start to see more video presence on websites, LinkedIn and other social media platforms you will need to give this idea much great focus. Even if the video is stage managed it will still be difficult to cover up everything. And can you imagine if you start throwing into the mix a bit of Twitter, some comments on a discussion group on LinkedIn and a few Answers to questions that have been raised on Quora.

In tomorrow’s post I intend to look more closely at the impact of social media on personal branding but for now I would be thinking long and hard about how you are perceived in the market and how you can be leveraging your persona to win more work. It really is as basic as that. As much as you may find the exercise uncomfortable you need to embark on an exercise, sooner rather than later, where you seek out honest feedback so that in turn you can address the deficiencies. There is no point thinking that you have this wonderful reputation when half the people who instruct you are doing so out of a deep sense of loyalty but actually they can’t stand you. I know that sounds harsh, and frankly you might not care less as long as the job gets done, but into the future client satisfaction will not just be about getting the job done but about your clients understanding more about you and what you truly stand for.

The idea of Brand You does give legal practice a massive USP in that people buy from people not brands and if you can build a presence where people want to instruct you because they know you, like you and trust you (and you may find that you have tackled these already) then it will be difficult for the Uber brands to muscle in on your patch.

If I were starting out on the road to fame and fortune in the legal profession – oh come on you know that is why you have signed up for a 40 year career – then I would work on a 5-stage plan that might look something like this:

1. Carry out a 360 survey and ask your recipients exactly how they perceive you. Do not be suggestive with questions like: “Do you think that [name] is dynamic etc etc.” Rather you ask in a given situation where the person has had experience of dealing with you, how they found you.

2. If it says your profile sucks, do something about it fast. None of us are perfect, but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. If Brand You is a great lawyer but has lousy client care skills then what are you going to do about it?

3. Get Better should be your daily mantra. Don’t rest on your laurels. Yes of course you can always read another law report, Sweet & Maxwell novel or you might even be tempted to reach for the Gazette – unlikely I know – but I think you would be better off picking up a non law book like The 7 Habits of Highly Successful people or if you want to know more about personal branding go read Tom Peters book,The Brand You 50.

4. Don’t think you have all the answers and accept that law is a business and you need to go to work on your brand to reach your full potential.

5. Write down your sentence and check it regularly and ask others to do the same. If you don’t see any change, then go back to step 1 and start over.

In tomorrow’s post I will look at the (massive) impact of social media on Brand You with such platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Stay tuned.

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