I want to dispel a myth, and I hope it is not one that I have played a hand in perpetuating.
Not that many years ago legal practice thrived off of personalities. Not celebrities. People were known for their position in the town, respected for their wisdom and fairness, and brilliance in certain more esoteric areas of law.
But, somewhat lamentably, we have seen this picture wane as a result of:
- More solicitors entering the profession;
- The use of fax, email, mobile and the web and less face to face contact;
- The plurality of firms all offering the same or similar legal services;
- Importantly, the need for conformity in a highly regulated profession;
- Firms occupying the middle of the road all the time;
- The way in which firms have selected candidates from similar schools, Universities and interests; and
- Because firms think that is the way they will be accepted and grow their brand.
The situation is likely to get worse as more and more legal work is conducted on-line. Yes there will still be the need for personal contact, but firms will become known more or less for the technology that serves their client base.
Personal branding, perhaps at the upper echelons of the profession, is unlikely to be assimilated to the extent of the high street firm but, even here, firms will need to be careful how the power of social media and the law of unintended consequences can wreak havoc. The nonchalant Tweet can turn into a PR nightmare.
Notwithstanding all of this, I am still of the view that personal branding is the one thing that, collectively, will enable firms to maintain their position and, in some cases, grow their market share.
Without wishing to appear cynical, too many solicitors take for granted their reputation. There is no one reason for this but is usually a combination of lax competition, a strong firm brand, their learning and just the fact that they are a solicitor.
This has to change and lawyers and support staff all need to start thinking about the nature of their brand or persona. If you are unsure of what I mean then start with a search of Google. Where do you appear? What images exist of you? You may be surprised.
There is still a lot of misunderstanding about personal branding and, in some quarters, I suspect that there will be some people who thing the whole thing is a load of rubbish. They will see a brand a synomous with a consumer brand (Mars) or may be even a C-List celebrity. It is neither. As Andrew Carnegie said:
“Young man, make your name worth something.”
In summary it is what you stand for. It doesn’t mean what you do but how you are perceived for doing it.
My concern is that those people coming late to social media will assume that by using some of the public platforms that is the way that they will develop a brand. Not so. It will give you a presence but it is the substance of and the subject areas you chose to comment upon that will others to make up their mind. If you are tempted to start putting a lot of material up on the web, do make sure that you have figured out your personal brand. If you don’t know what you stand for or more likely your putative clients, then don’t further confuse them when you appear suddenly in a blaze of glory talking about material that is antithetical to how they previously perceived you. And don’t get lazy with social media. You would be well advised to do an audit, 360 appraisal or simply ask your colleagues and clients how they perceive you. It may sound churlish but if they had to pick a personality then who would they compare you to? Someone recently remarked that I was like Paul McKenna. May be it was the baldness but even so it make me think very carefully about what I was trying to convey and if I was trying just a bit too hard.
We have all heard the hackneyed expression “Going back to basics” but more often than not that is the best place to start. Start to meet more people again, get some proper feedback on your personality and then see how you might use social media to reniforce the best bits and possibly help you to amerliorate a few of the iffy bits.
But let me make this clear: The one thing that is going to have the biggest impact on your brand is … DOING THE JOB TO THE VERY BEST OF YOUR ABILITY. If you screw up then in our open society you could just find that your brand is toast. Literally.
This is is not the place for me to rave on about a strategy – you have had enough of that lately. What is required is for you to care enough to want to develop a strong brand and one where you are known, liked and trusted for what you do. It is no good either trying to blend in or conversely go OTT (no silly Bow Ties). You just have to stand for something. And if you have to make a commotion about something then do it. It’s not about getting endless inches in the paper either – although sometimes it is a help – but rather being known for being you, and just enough different to the next person to make you stand out in the prospects mind.
As I have been saying over the past few weeks, in my various posts, stop thinking and start doing. If you find that there is always tomorrow to do something then you know that whatever it is you are putting off is important enough for you to put it back at the head of the queue. It may well be that you have been doing a lot of the right stuff and now is the time to elevate the programme with a social media push. If that is the case then let me know. I will happily tell you where the journey starts. But where it ends will be up to you.
Stay tuned. Personal branding is something that I know will keep cropping up even if from time to time the label slightly changes.
~ JS ~