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6 steps to personal branding for lawyers

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by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

Cropped portrait of a mature businesswoman working in her office

As a lawyer, your personal brand is how you choose to present yourself to others. It is what sets your legal practice apart from the competition, builds your credibility, and gives potential clients a reason to trust you with their legal needs. If you haven’t created a personal brand for yourself, you are missing out on the opportunity to make a great first impression.

Here are some tips on how to create a personal brand that will attract clients and garner respect from your peers:

1. Find your niche

Don’t spread your brand too thin by trying to appeal to everyone. Instead, define a target audience and figure out how to attract those people. Your target audience will normally be based on the following factors:

  1. The type of law you practice
  2. What you most enjoy doing
  3. What pays the best
  4. What has the most demand

The more specific your niche, the more likely it is that people will remember you when they need to hire a lawyer.

For instance, if your specialty is family law and your passion is negotiating child-centered divorce agreements, then you may want to build your personal brand around finding an audience that is receptive to that message. This likely means honing in on parents who understand the importance of putting their children’s well-being before their own financial interests.

Next, go through your client list and start categorizing divorce settlements according to the characteristics of the parents: What made them more or less likely to adopt a child-centered approach? Which types of couples made the best clients both financially and in terms of professional satisfaction? Answering these questions will give you a list of traits for the “ideal client,” and you can use this list to develop branding that resonates with people who have those traits.

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Finally, you’ll need to consider if there is enough demand for your niche. If all the other family law firms in your area are targeting the exact same audience, or if the types of clients you seek are few and far between, you may need to go back and revise your audience to find a niche that is sizeable and not overserved.

2. Be true to yourself

Once you’ve thoroughly defined your niche, you can start to create your brand message: Why should a client hire you over another lawyer? When crafting your brand, be sure to take into account your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your experience and motivations.

While there are millions of lawyers in America, there is only one you.  It’s much easier to excel by being genuine than by trying to imitate others, so put some thought into the unique value you offer.

“Understand what your unique value proposition is. What is it about yourself—who you are, what you stand for, what you have to offer—that will help differentiate you and add value to your clients? Define it. Define your voice, your purpose, your vision and communicate it clearly.”Gabriela Cardoza, personal and corporate brand consultant

To help identify what makes you unique, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is your superpower (something you do better than anyone else)?
  • What values/principles do you base your life decisions on?
  • What do others routinely praise you for?
  • What do people ask you for help with?
  • What words do people most often use to describe you?
  • What is different about the way you work or the results you get?
  • What things are you passionate about?
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Being genuine ensures that your brand is original. It also makes it easier to maintain your brand because you’ll be less prone to making gaffs if you are communicating in a way that comes naturally.

Moreover, people are good at spotting fakes. If your brand is just a copy of someone else’s, then your audience will see this and will disparage you for it.

“Look at personal branding as a conversation, not a sales pitch. Think about communication as the gateway to building a meaningful relationship.”Good2bSocial, a digital legal marketing firm

One example of an authentic brand is Norton Rose Fulbright, which uses employee-generated Instagram photos to highlight the human connection across the firm’s many global locations. Because the content is not marketing driven, viewers are more inclined to trust the brand behind it.

3. Tell your story

Leverage the fact that the human brain loves a good story. The classic structure of a narrative (exposition, complication, climax, reversal, and resolution) causes our brains to undergo chemical changes that capture our attention and trigger our emotions, which is exactly what you want your brand to do.

“Understand yourself like a novelist knows their hero and then share your quest story using storytelling techniques to create curiosity and encourage engagement. In other words, don’t vomit the whole story at once.”Shannon Peel, CEO and president of the MarketAPeel Agency

Presenting your brand as a story is not as daunting as it might at first seem, and it does wonders to establish an emotional connection between you and prospective clients. You can build on this rapport by highlighting certain elements in your narrative, including your attention to detail, your depth of knowledge, your credibility, and your passion for your work.

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For example:

“I was a junior in college when I realized how little journalism graduates earn out of school, so I rushed to apply to law school, knowing nothing about the practice of law. I got accepted into a mid-tier school, loved the challenge and curriculum, worked my tail off, transferred to and graduated from the University of Michigan. After graduation, I was supposed to be an M&A lawyer, but my first day of work was on Monday, September 17, 2001, and virtually every new associate in the firm was tossed into the bankruptcy department given the economic impact of 9/11. It was intense, terrifying, challenging and exhilarating.”—By Jay Harrington via Attorney At Work

When creating your personal brand story, you’ll need to decide what kind of plot to use and how you will portray yourself as the “hero.” Here are a few ideas:

  • Talk about a difficult situation and describe what you did to overcome it.
  • Describe a particular moment that caused you to rethink how you viewed the world.
  • Discuss something you learned that changed the trajectory of your career.

4. Make it easy for other people to tell your story

Once you’ve got a story to tell, you need to make it easy for others to share it.

You’ll need multiple versions of your brand story, but make sure one of those is short and catchy so that casual readers can get something out of it in a few seconds. Although you may feel like you’re leaving out essential information, it’s better to err on the side of brevity. Think of your short-format brand story as an elevator pitch—an introduction to who you are that makes the reader want to learn more.

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It’s also a good idea to make your story as clear as possible, so people won’t be confused about your message. This means it must be as narrowly defined as your niche. There should be zero confusion about why prospective clients should choose you.

Here’s the “elevator pitch” version of the brand story in the previous section:

“I graduated from the University of Michigan intending to be an M&A lawyer. But due to the economic impact of 9/11, I was thrown into the bankruptcy department my first day at work. It was intense, terrifying, challenging, and exhilarating.”

Once you’ve finished creating your story, be sure to post it on all your social media accounts. This will make it easy for others to share it with their social networks.

“Whether you want it or not, your personal brand follows you around. It can either show your expertise and bring you clients, or it can make you irrelevant. It’s your choice which one it is.”Marti Sanchez, founder of Influence Podium

5. Be consistent across platforms

When you first meet someone, you assume things about that person based on his or her appearance. For example, if a new acquaintance wore business attire at your initial introduction, cut-off shorts and a ripped T-shirt during your second meeting, and a swimsuit the third time you meet, you would be hard pressed to describe what kind of person he or she is. You might also view this individual as somewhat unreliable.

“You have to demonstrate consistency across your communication, gravitas, and appearance. Don’t underestimate how tiny inconsistencies can derail personal brand effectiveness.”Fyiona Yong, millennial leadership coach

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This reasoning extends to a lawyer’s personal brand. If your branding is inconsistent from one platform to the next, then potential clients will consider you unpredictable and thus unworthy of their trust or loyalty.

Conversely, having a consistent branding message in all your communications can make you appear solid and dependable. And given that 83% of people who trust a company will recommend it to others, being trustworthy can also increase your ability to obtain referrals and grow your business.

6. Learn from the success of others

The good news is that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to build a powerful personal brand. While it’s important for your brand to be authentic, there’s no reason you can’t research your competition and see the techniques that others are using to create successful brands.

Study the different social media platforms and see what trends and personal brands are popular. What are the top-5 Instagram influencers doing that you’re not? What strategies is that lawyer with the large Twitter following leveraging to build her reputation as an authority in her field? Once you find the answers to these questions, you can incorporate these techniques in a way that works for your unique story.

Next steps

By now, you should understand why your personal brand is so important and how to take the first steps toward creating a brand that works for you. For more information about improving your online presence, check out some of our other Resource Center articles for lawyers: