Starting our careers as lawyers, we are so afraid of being caught unprepared that we try to memorize every fact, detail, and statute. The problem with this is that details become our security blanket. When a partner, judge, or potential client asks a question, we regurgitate facts that we memorized the night before and rattle off code sections, hoping our knowledge will impress our audience.
Not so fast! It is more likely that you are mired in the details and not detail-oriented. The inability to discern what is important and to focus on essential details signals low-quality legal work to your audience. If repeated, this becomes a character flaw and part of your professional reputation. To craft a positive personal brand rather than stumble into a flawed professional reputation, young lawyers must hone their ability to identify which details matter and quickly tell a story that sells.
Three Questions that Define Your Reputation
As a young lawyer, there are three questions that partners, colleagues, and clients ask about you, and that form the basis of your reputation and brand:
- Are you trustworthy and reliable?
- Can you do the work?
- Can you bring in business?
Clear, concise, and memorable messaging will lead those people to answer affirmatively. Meandering, over-stuffed messaging does the opposite. Knowing what matters and confidently focusing on it makes these questions an easy “yes.”
What Is Your Message?
Many young lawyers think that formal interactions and highly edited assignments are the message. That is wrong. Your “message” includes anything that comes out of your mouth or your mind that represents you. It is your story. It can be your elevator pitch, website profile, blog posts, legal briefs, oral arguments, emails, and even social media posts. Every interaction you have is an opportunity to build your brand.
Try These Three Tricks
- Make It a Commercial: Think of a pithy soundbite that delivers the essence of your message with just enough detail to keep your audience interested for 30 seconds.
- Think in Tweets: Think of the 280-character summary you might write to get someone to click on the link you are sharing.
- Treat Thoughts Like Accessories: According to the elegant Coco Chanel, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” In the same way, you should consider simplifying before communicating.
Following this advice will help you hone your message and your brand. If you are slow to make your point because you are more concerned with sharing extraneous details, you will lose attention and appear directionless.
Practice Focused Writing
You can develop your personal and professional brand through your writing—particularly emails. As a young lawyer, your email communication will form the primary basis of your reputation, and you will get to practice countless times per day. Practicing compelling email communication is a great way to develop a solid reputation as a bright lawyer with an instinct for what matters.