Lawyer-up: the rise of personal branding in the legal sector

We’re all familiar with the power of brands. Think Vegemite. Dyson. Cancer Council. We have an immediate emotional response to certain products and services – this is the heart of their brand. Many corporate lawyers work for corporations or NGOs that spend time and money building and protecting their brand because they recognise it as critical to their success.

We also have powerful emotional responses to people and their personalities. Think Richard Branson. Princess Mary of Denmark. Noel Pearson.

Personal branding has become as important as product branding because it plays such a key role in developing careers and increasing influence. And if you’re uncomfortable applying the term ‘brand’ to yourself or your colleagues, then think reputation: you have a reputation whether you like it or not. For corporate lawyers the choice is to manage their personal brand carefully or to allow it to be determined by others.

This article covers a three stage process for developing and managing your brand.

  1. What do you want your brand to be?
  2. Who do you want to know about you?
  3. How can you build your profile and develop the right relationships?

What do you want your brand to be?

An old saying in the advertising sector is that the fastest way to destroy a bad product is to advertise it well. Good advertising means many people will try it – bad product means they will be dissatisfied, won’t buy again and will tell others how unhappy they were with it. The product then fails.

Trying to present yourself as something that is far removed from reality won’t work in the long term. When developing your brand you need to build on the real attributes you have or those you have the capacity to develop. First ask yourself:

  • What are you interested in?
  • What is your natural style?
  • What do you know other people say about you that you can build on?
  • How do you need to position yourself to achieve your professional and personal goals?
  • What is the gap you need to bridge?

Then think about your goals. For example, do you want to:

  • Move to a non-executive career?
  • Enhance your current role?
  • Provide new opportunities for you professionally?
  • Enhance your personal network?
  • Get involved in a community organisation?

Now, how will you position yourself in people’s minds in order to achieve those goals? Perhaps you want to be known as having a specialist area of legal expertise, or as having sector or industry experience. Or you may want to highlight your skills as a strategic thinker with a broad business focus.

Once you have clear objectives you can start to frame the way you talk and write to highlight the attributes you most want others to associate with you.

Who do you want to know about you?

Just as a business has key stakeholders, you also have the personal equivalent of business stakeholders – those people who are important to you achieving your goals.

Your goal will determine your stakeholders. If it is becoming a non-executive director then your stakeholders are other non-executive directors and some search firms. If it is to gain new opportunities as a corporate lawyer then it may be other corporate counsel and some specialist search firms. If it is to enhance your current role, then your stakeholders may be internal executives and/or your Board.

Once you know your stakeholders you can start to raise your profile with them. It makes you ask: where do you need to network, what does your stakeholder value and how can you be part of adding value?

How can you build your profile and develop the right relationships?

Once you identify your stakeholders, you can consider how best to engage them.

It may be volunteering for internal committees, or getting involved in an internal project around driving change. It may be working with an industry association, networking in the community sector, engaging with Justice Connect or AICD involvement: there are numerous opportunities for you to be associated with people, organisations and activities that help build your brand.

The most significant new tool for engagement and profile raising is social media. It offers many new opportunities for conversations and interactions, for extending your networks, building your profile and managing your brand.

Social media is challenging for many lawyers: it is collaborative, thrives on unscripted conversation and co-creation and is not ‘controllable.’ However, you can control your own content, and thereby manage your brand and avoid risk.

Of the many social media platforms to choose from Linked In is becoming a central tool in lawyers’ communications armoury, allowing you to present your professional profile to and connect with a significant number of your known and potential stakeholders.

Once you master Linked In, consider the other major platforms that could help expand your presence:

Twitter: organisations and individuals regularly tweet about legal issues or share information by tweeting. Twitter allows you to create and share nuggets of content that will keep you top of mind.

Blogging: writing blogs can build awareness and raise your profile, and the  number of legal blogs is increasing. To use blogs effectively, make them interesting, relevant and true to your brand.

Facebook: still a conundrum for many because it challenges the relationship between the personal and professional. Our advice is to treat every posting as if it could impact your professional life: limit what you post and be careful about where and by whom you get tagged.

The answers to the many questions in this article are personal and will be different depending on your individual style, goals and stakeholders. That’s the whole point of branding – to position you as somebody unique.

Taking stock of your personal brand and managing it to achieve your objectives can create opportunity and drive personal success. The power of good personal branding should not be underestimated.

By Melanie Wilkinson

This blog post is an edited version of an article published in the June issue of Australian Corporate Lawyer.