Harnessing The Power Of Your Personal Brand And Reputation

Monday, January 27, 2014 - 10:58

Not long ago, it was difficult to convince outside counsel that the word “marketing” could be uttered in the hallowed halls of “Big Law” without thunderclaps and lightning bolts lighting up the night sky.

Clearly, attitudes have shifted tremendously. You, as in-house counsel, may feel that shift most notably when you receive the avalanche of requests to act as reference for several of your counsel with Chambers, Legal 500 and other directories. It's clear that few now argue with the value of building and maintaining a strong reputation and pedigree by which to share personal attributes far and wide – but why have most lawyers allowed their reputations to be managed and communicated somewhat randomly and mostly without a concise plan for reputation management? This topic impacts in-house counsel most directly. The more properly that outside counsel take charge of their brand and reputation – and communicate that information effectively – the easier it becomes for you to target the right practitioner for your matters.

Currently, there are three main ways to learn about a lawyer’s achievements: 1. public website listing notable cases; 2. media stories, inclusive of television and web videos; and 3. ranking directories. LinkedIn and social media remain fairly limited channels for high-end practitioners, and I think ethical concerns still properly weigh heavy when considering if/how to advertise wins. I would argue that funneling information through these standard channels is a bit like putting the age-old cart before the horse. There is no overall plan, and instead, most lawyers avoid the topic of branding and reputation management, hold their noses and dive in and hope for the best.

We have a lot to learn from our friends in the accounting world on this subject. They leave nothing to chance these days. The Big Four have taken “personal branding” and reputation management very seriously. Senior rainmakers (right down to newbies) of these firms enroll in personalized training to discover what their unique and authentic strengths are that they offer to their clients. And they create a very detailed and concise plan to communicate those unique offerings every single time they target a new client opportunity. In a world in which lawyers become more of a commodity every passing year – why wouldn’t this training be crucial to lawyers too? As much as we wish it to be true, we can’t all be generalists forever and will need to put a stake (or several) in the ground in order to be noticed.

The personal branding and reputation management training occurring at accounting firms has not gone unnoticed on the lawyer side. My wholly unscientific poll on this subject (20 participants from AmLaw 200 firms) sheds some light on whether lawyers have noticed their accounting brethren and others taking real charge as to how their reputations are communicated and managed. Several said that they had been somewhat blindsided by the rapid uptick in the polished skills showing up on the accounting side. One lawyer told me that he had his chief marketer call over to the accounting firm he lunched with that day to determine what training was being used there. He had noticed such a dramatic improvement in the selling of the accounting TEAM – not just the individuals – that he wanted to investigate it for his practice group. The comment about a team improving as a direct result of individuals’ training begs exploration. As much as personal branding seems like a solo endeavor, the counter is true. When you sell as a team, as lawyers often do, you become more effective at putting together complementary teams that meet the myriad needs of in-house counsel. You are a better team when you and your peers are clear as to what each of YOU are selling. Everyone’s role becomes more defined, and in-house counsel will no longer be subjected to meetings with seven lawyers talking over one another selling services that are ill-defined or repetitive.

Does this type of training benefit in-house counsel? You bet it does. The more defined your goals are, along with the resultant value you bring to the table, the easier it is for your company and board of directors to recognize your achievements. And reward them.

How do we get started on the path to defining a personal brand and closely managing reputations? We will be back next month with practical suggestions for getting this process underway. In the meantime, one of the best things to do is read through this copy of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel and notice how many of the lawyers here do a great job at differentiating their specialties.

Of all of the new and improved ways lawyers can help themselves to be found by outside counsel, or the ways in which in-house counsel can be recognized even further by management and boards, no single process will yield better results than paying attention to personal branding and reputation management. In a fiercely competitive marketplace with little to no growth projected, these skills will become the most critical in your arsenal.

This column is designed to provide corporate counsel with insights into what they should look for in contacts with outside counsel. Carolyn A. Sandano, the author of this month’s column, has led marketing efforts for several AMLaw 20 firms. She may be contacted at csandano@thesandano group.com.