Attorneys are expected to be on top of their game by knowing the law inside and out. From precedent cases and industry standards to temperaments of judges and variations in jurisdictions, the practice of law indeed has its intricacies. For marketing and business development, attorneys are tasked with developing a personal brand that differentiates them from the saturated market. This is the rationale why, in the legal sector, an elevated approach is required when developing and owning your personal brand. The conscious and intentional effort of becoming an expert in your field of law requires a tactical mind-set and strategic lens.
Your personal brand combines your voice, story, skills, and experiences to culminate in your differentiating factor—your “secret sauce.” As we continue to navigate the waters of uncertainty during this COVID-19 era, your personal brand is the one narrative that you have complete control over. The art of developing your brand as an expert requires intentional marketing practices and a deliberate effort to become the go-to source in your industry.
Attorneys range in experience and industry expertise, which makes the legal field incredibly competitive. To distinguish yourself from the crowd, defining your personal brand as an expert is essential to build and nurture relationships with clients—both current and prospective. Your level of experience may no longer be enough. Prospects are likely in search of an attorney whom they can validate online with credible expertise, a strong track record, and a defined voice as a leader absorbed within a specific field of law. Being digital is no longer optional but required to extend your reach as a practicing attorney.
With a combined background in branding and marketing and a juris doctorate degree, my trajectory has brought a unique perspective to the field of legal marketing and personal branding. Partnering with solo practitioners and attorneys in small to mid-sized firms, I’ve seen firsthand the nuances of personal branding in a legal setting. For example, there may be an assumption that by joining a firm, you’ll enjoy the many perks of having access to a marketing director (or team) who will help make your profile stand out. They’ll help to get leads through the firm’s website and social media. You can only hope that the case flow will remain consistent throughout the year to meet your billable-hour threshold.
If you’re a “solopreneur” embarking on your own practice, you may quickly realize that you’re now responsible for everything—from business operations and financials to digital marketing and branding. Your full-time job as an attorney requires a level of experience in knowing how to run a business and how to market yourself with a compelling digital presence. This is all in addition to the substantive requirements that, as attorneys, we are expected to stay on top of.
As we embark on a new year with optimism and opportunity, discover these new ways to elevate your personal brand as an expert in your respective industry.
Start Your New Practice as an Expert, Not a Generalist
“Riches are in niches.”
—Shannon Simpson Jones and Yadira Harrison, co-founders, Verb
Throughout the years as a brand strategist and innovation advisor, I’ve observed many common pitfalls when building a brand. Within the start-up industry, first-time founders feverishly work to capture an audience with the widest net by trying to cater to all needs. This, however, largely results in failure. Similarly, building your personal brand as an expert may encompass thoughts of being all things to all people.
Embrace a new approach in 2021. Take a start-up methodology framework and develop your value proposition—an elevator pitch that includes your competitive edge. What differentiates you from other attorneys in your field? What are you bringing to the table that no one else has? Take an unlikely detour when drafting this statement. Include a conversational yet authoritative tone. When reading through your first draft, ask yourself:
- Does this statement inspire persuasiveness to work with me?
- Will I be considered as a go-to resource within this industry?
- Am I approachable? Do I bring a personal brand that is rooted in the fundamentals as a skilled and knowledgeable attorney?
Consider this example. In a sea of divorce attorneys, what will make you unique? Do you partner with a well-established therapist who provides a one-hour consulting session every month until the divorce proceedings are complete? Perhaps there’s an opportunity to team up with a children’s yoga instructor who is offering online classes. While your client is connecting with you via Zoom, their children will be occupied in the other room in a Zen state.
As the legal profession transitions to a virtual space, consider ways to market your personal brand to help alleviate some of the obstacles your client is facing. Your primary goal is to become a trusted expert and counsel, but your creative and out-of-the-box approach may set you apart from the crowd.
Bring Purpose to Your Practice
“Everybody has digital technology, everybody has access to capital—and so now the differentiation is the brand.”
—Keith Johnston, research director, Forrester Research, Inc.
A motivational speaker and author of five books, including Start with Why (Portfolio, 2009), Simon Sinek developed his guiding framework to help individuals discover their why. From entrepreneurs and employees to rising leaders and CEOs, the alignment of purpose brings fulfillment when developing your personal brand. Naturally, the next question poses the obstacle of how to develop your why and how to effectively communicate that as an expert in your field.
Combine Sinek’s why methodology with the practice of design thinking as advocated by international design and consulting firm IDEO. Originally used as a process to foster collaboration and problem-solving using a human-centered approach, design thinking stresses the ability to ask questions. Personal branding should take a similar approach.
- Ideation. Consider the reasons why you went into law. Was it a specific obstacle that you faced? Did you witness an event that sparked a fire of advocacy? Were you compelled by an individual in your life to bring change and impact to a specific industry?
- Inspiration. Which reasons inspired you to take the first steps to becoming an attorney? Is there a story that depicts your why?
- Implementation. How can you express your purpose to your industry audience? What marketing tactics can you use to draw an industry-specific audience to develop new prospects and nurture existing client relationships?
Although in-person meetings and networking events may be temporarily on hold, human interactions will need to be optimized through digital advancements in marketing. By utilizing technology at your fingertips, attorneys have the ability to demonstrate their purpose and expertise to increase professional opportunities while confined in their home offices. Try one of the following marketing tactics to elevate your digital presence:
- Podcasting. According to a study published in Statista in March 2020 (https://tinyurl.com/y3kgbden), the share of Americans who listened to a podcast more than doubled between 2009 and 2019, growing from 22 percent to 51 percent. With the rise in popularity, podcasting is now regarded as a learning source based on industry highlights and trends. Do your research and find five podcasts that relate to your expertise. Pitch your background along with a topic of your choice, and you’d be surprised where you’ll be a featured speaker next.
- Virtual conferences and events. Yes, conferences do (still) exist! Instead of postponing for the foreseeable future, conferences and events are going virtual through web-based streaming platforms. Don’t limit your attendance at recurring events with members of your legal community. Do a quick search online to see which virtual events are trending for your industry. Connect with new stakeholders and industry thought leaders. Based on similar interests, your personal brand will likely resonate further with this audience.
- Website domain. Website domains are dwindling each day. Popular domain registries such as Google and GoDaddy are running out of domain options—from the most obscure names at relatively low costs to the more coveted domains at high bid values. As you build your personal domain, consider purchasing your name’s domain. Whether you’re opening a practice as a solopreneur or are in the middle of a transition to a larger firm, your personal domain can serve as a redirect option to your company bio. With Google searches becoming the default for clients and prospects, owning your domain will elevate your digital presence.
- Industry keywords. Building on your searchability online, your personal brand’s messaging will increase visibility as an industry expert if you saturate your content with industry keywords. Based on organizations, partners, leading thought leaders, and relevant news items, notice patterns in keywords. This language likely uses terms that are searched most frequently on the web. Incorporate these keywords within your content, including your company bio and LinkedIn summary, along with your social media posts on LinkedIn and Twitter. Consistent and frequent keyword messaging will allow for easy association between your personal brand and areas of expertise.
Become the Trusted Source
When everyone notices how present you are, how thoughtful you are, how good you are at remembering details, or whatever your personal strength is, they’ll start thinking of you as uniquely impressive. When you back that up with good work, a focused expertise and a clean, consistent message, you’ll be well on your way to building a powerful brand.
—Lewis Howes, former pro athlete, lifestyle entrepreneur, and best-selling author
We are all guilty of having crowded in-boxes. Navigating the waters between e-mails can become an obstacle, especially when you’re trying to reach your billable hours for the month. When developing your brand as a substantive expert, your in-box should be tailored to the information that you need to stay on top of. Bring in the most strategic information by tailoring your in-box to what you need to stay informed.
- Sign up for relevant news feeds. Set up Google alerts based on your top industry keywords. Block off a period of time throughout the day to filter through these updates. These alerts will become the contributing source for content to share on your social media platforms. Consistently post news items to have your network start associating you as a trusted news provider with the latest developments.
- Become an active organization member. Select organizations that include key stakeholders and thought leaders who would be interested in your substantive knowledge. Follow their newsletter updates, annual reports, and monthly online events to notice themes and trends. Reach out to other members within the organization who are featured as guest speakers or contributing authors.
- Start the conversation on social media. If you come across a piece of content such as an article, interview, or webinar, share it on social media. When drafting your post, be sure to “tag” the person, publication, and/or organization that featured the piece of content. By sharing other people’s content on social media, you’re elevating their personal brand while associating yourself as a trusted source for substantive news. Follow these leaders and organizations and use your social media to get ideas for new content that you can share periodically with your network.
Building your personal brand as an industry expert requires a two-pronged process. First, break down your purpose to define your why, articulate your voice, and substantiate your authority through your story and proven expertise. Second, practice what you preach to intentionally know the right information, meet the right connections, and authentically become the go-to source as a leading expert in your practice of law. The hunt for human engagement is now more important than ever as we navigate the waters of a predominantly digital world. Prospective clients are allergic to buzzwords. During times of instability, people gravitate to industry experts who are knowledgeable and reliable. Personal branding requires attorneys to exude strength and compassion while building digital connections as information providers, connection seekers, and trusted advisors.