Attorneys prefer to imagine that their brand is only related to their work product. That if they do good work, their reputation will grow, and this will translate into more business over time. But there is more to cultivating a life long legal career than just doing the work. The most successful attorneys have many moving parts to their practice that add up to creating a "Brand".
The reality is doing good work as a lawyer is the ticket to the party. Your competition is doing good work, too. Clients expect those who represent them in legal matters to be experienced, attentive and ethical. The expectation of doing good work is the bottom rung of the latter. Legal skills alone will not allow you to achieve the highest levels of career success.
A brand is your promise for how you will act in all situations. While there are examples of jerks, who are great lawyers, that succeed to the highest levels (this happens in all industries, by the way), in most cases people prefer to do business with those they know, like and trust. When you are known and respected beyond the work is when you create the best long-term career experience.
Large companies have dozens of people with the job title "brand manager" whose full-time jobs are to protect and promote the image of the company. While companies make this a priority, event the largest law firms, and certainly not small or solo firms, could employ an army of people to manage the brands of each lawyer. Thus the responsibility for brand management lies with the individual.
The pay-offs from staying visible in your community are hard to quantify, but when you examine those who have done well at building their brands, you discover lawyers with solid books of business, a pipeline of clients, and a variety of career options.
Relying on others in your firm to find the business is short-sighted. In the highly competitive marketplace of legal services many who thought they could just show up and do the work found themselves out of their firms. Meanwhile those with strong brands in their communities were either well compensated or able to move to other firms on their own terms.
If you have never thought about your "brand" before, you still have one. People are always watching and making judgments. If you are the "best kept secret" in the legal community, the odds are that you are not always billing to your capacity.
The only way to understand your own brand is to ask others how you are viewed. You cannot assume anything when it comes to your reputation, as too often we receive any valuable feedback from our clients, referral sources, co-workers or friends.
Hope is not a good strategy when it comes to growing a practice. To establish and cultivate a brand you must take a series of ongoing actions to raise your visibility with those who can hire you or refer you to business. If your firm is large enough to have a marketing or business development staff I encourage you to work closely with them in understanding where you are, and creating a plan to get you to where you want to go with your practice.
I am amazed by how many lawyers in big firms have never had conversations with their legal marketing and business development teams. These internal employees, or external consultants, are in place to grow the brand of the firm, but are often able to work closely with individual lawyers that are committed to their personal and professional brands. If you have not had lunch with your marketing manager lately, set up a time to get to know them better and allow them to understand your goals for your own practice. If your firm is too small to employ a marketing team, then you must take immediate ownership and create an action plan by yourself.
Start by taking a look successful lawyers who have the most clients in your area of expertise (inside or outside your firm). Why are these attorneys the "Go To Lawyers" in your community? In many cases their career efforts go beyond the legal work, as they are committed to business development, supporting causes in the community, and have established a reputation with intention. Top tier careers rarely happen by accident.
If you make your brand a second tier priority you will have second tier results. If you ignore your brand, all bets are off on what opportunities will find you in the future.
Have A Great Day
Thom Singer is experienced in legal marketing and business development. He regularly speaks at law firm retreats inspiring attorneys to embrace their brand and increase their sales. He also teaches lawyers ways to improve their presentation skills as the firm's secret weapon for business development success. More information at www.ThomSinger.com.