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Personal branding

04 Sep 2020 / Branding Print

Maybe she’s born with it

You’re doing just fine in professional terms – but what about your personal brand? What do people think of when they go beyond your qualifications, or when they compare you with a colleague?

Each of us shares something with Coca Cola, Apple Computers, and other well-known consumer products. We each have a brand, and that brand can tremendously affect how we get on in life, the opportunities we are afforded, and how we are regarded.

As solicitors, you are fortunate in that you generally share a good professional brand. Solicitors are viewed as belonging to a learned and responsible profession; solicitors are thought of as professionals who others go to at a time of personal crisis or when they are faced with a complicated challenge.

You solve complex matters and are considered to make a valuable contribution within society.

Because you’re worth it

Your personal brand reflects what others say about you (beyond just being a solicitor). Your personal brand involves a whole mix of matters – such as specific expertise you have, how you get on with others, your effectiveness, etc.

However, particular characteristics are often pivotal in how a person is described, and these descriptions often take centre place in a person’s reputation and brand.

So, at a personal level, a solicitor may be acknowledged as being ‘a great criminal lawyer’, ‘generous to a fault’, ‘a real dynamo’ – or any combination of all three and/or other descriptions.

Your brand is not what you say it is. It is what others say about you. A good explanation is that your brand is ‘what others say about you when you leave the room’. These descriptions are often short, pointed – and deadly accurate.

How many times have you heard someone written off in a few words? Or damned with faint praise? People will always have opinions and be happy to share them. It is this human condition that underlies personal branding.

Think of memorable descriptions that you have heard. Reflect on how a simple comment can attach itself to someone. Admiration is often expressed in a few words such as ‘rising star’, ‘one to watch’ or ‘straight as a die’.

Think different

What has been happening over the last few decades – and is expected to accelerate – is that professional branding is losing influence and personal branding is taking on a whole new level of importance for solicitors and other professionals.

It is no longer enough to be a solicitor (or other professional) established within a geographic region in order to attract business and make a good living there.

Lucrative business is increasingly lost to competitors located elsewhere with a reputation for being especially effective at particular types of work.

Personal branding is not just increasingly important for legal firms and self-employed solicitors. It is also hugely relevant among employed solicitors, as we all become more and more responsible for managing our careers and navigating through job and career changes.

Solicitors no longer expect to stay with the same firm throughout their career, and this makes personal branding a critical matter for employees too – not just the self-employed.

It is worthwhile gaining a good understanding of personal branding, given how it is increasingly having an impact on both self-employed and employed solicitors.

Just do it

Everyone has a personal brand. It is not something you can opt out of. However, it is up to you whether your brand is purposeful or accidental.

You can take control of all aspects of your personal brand, and you can craft a purposeful one that is authentic and aligned with your career plan. You can then go out and build awareness around how you would like to be known. Networking is a commonly used method to do this.

There are myriad other ways to promote your brand – many subtle but effective over time. Tone of voice communicated by you – and everyone in your firm – in all forms of interactions with other parties significantly affects how you are thought of, and ultimately your brand, too.

Developments over the last few decades help us to do more and more in promoting our personal brand. Social media has been particularly revolutionary.

It’s the real thing

Solicitors can now publicise matters about themselves and their firms using resources such as LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter.

Branding may reflect what others say about you, but you are at the centre of your personal brand. It is built on your values and is played out by your behaviour. For your brand to complement you and serve you well, it needs to be authentic.

You create your brand by how you behave every day. Every action you take further defines it. It is often shaped by how you treat people who might not be seen as powerful or influential.

Your brand is a vibrant, ever-changing part of you. The core ‘you’ will remain unchanged but, hopefully, you will always be seeking to improve how you behave and communicate. Over time, these adjustments will positively affect your reputation and your brand.

I’m lovin’ it

Listen to how people talk about consumer brands. There is often a large dollop of emotion expressed, ‘I love my iPhone’ or ‘I’m dying for Starbucks’. Brands depend on and exploit emotional engagement.

Personal branding works in the same emotional way as consumer branding, albeit in a more subtle way. People regularly choose to do business with professional service firms and with professionals such as solicitors because they personally like and identify with them – often in a very visceral way.

When people identify with you in this kind of way, they also often refer a lot of business to you through recommendations.

The best a man can get

The most lucrative work a solicitor can do is repeat work. If that work is involved in matters that are especially complex or esoteric, so much the better. Without question, promoting your brand is the best strategy for attracting work like this into your firm. So, brand building should be a key strategy for all self-employed solicitors.

But it does not stop there. As employees move away from having a job for life and move towards a career made up of different parts, their personal brand also becomes more and more critical.

In an increasingly fluid workplace, solicitors are likely to have a portfolio career, particularly as you advance in age. In these circumstances, your brand is likely to be fundamental to your employability.

Keith O’Malley
Keith O’Malley is the Law Society’s head of support services