Using a Triangle to Win at Full-Circle Branding in the Legal Business
“How do I become more visible to attract clients and grow my book of business?” is the most common question I get asked.
My response is a variation on this theme: Look to yourself, to your firm, and to the networking platforms you use, or could use, to amplify your message. In order to define value in today’s market, you must engage with multiple collaborative partners.
A Three-Pronged Approach to Branding
Think of a triangle whose three sides represent your individual brand, your firm’s brand and your professional networks’ brands. Each of these brands reinforces and strengthens the others. Remove any one of them and the model collapses.
The Individual Brand
Regarding your individual brand, take a look inward and assess where your strengths lie.
What skills and knowledge do you possess that make you uniquely qualified to best represent a potential client? Think of your case history and which ones created a sense of accomplishment for you personally. You’ll likely find your answers in your professional biography or LinkedIn profile (or you should, if they’re up to date). Reflect on what cases you regularly use as topics of conversation at professional and social gatherings among colleagues. The skills and knowledge that earned you those cases are part of your individual brand.
A clear example of a strong individual brand is Floyd Abrams. For decades, Abrams, now 81, was the go-to pundit on media law in America, almost reflexively tapped by print reporters, TV commentators and conference organizers. That reputation stems from his work on the seminal First Amendment cases of his generation, from the Pentagon Papers to Branzburg v. Hayes, and most recently, for his defense of Al Franken against FOX News over Franken’s use of the phrase “Fair and Balanced” in a book title. Abrams’ individual brand has been fortified by his case history.
Other contributors to your individual brand are your beliefs and values. If you value innovation and comprehensive investigative practices, you’re likely to gravitate toward cases that challenge you to devise bespoke strategies. As your book of business builds on these types of cases, your individual brand evolves and reinforces your beliefs and values. Know what propels you and be ready to turn away from that which does not. You won't be sacrificing anything in the long run.
Finally, your individual brand reflects your personality traits and your level of emotional intelligence. These “soft skills,” if possessed and skillfully demonstrated, have the ability to position your individual brand in a light that's attractive to clients, law firms and professional networks.
The Law Firm Brand
As part of the triangle that will grow your business, your law firm’s brand could be the attraction that makes a potential client seek you out.
How does your law firm fare in the industry compared with other firms? From “big law” firms to boutiques that specialize in one practice area, clients look to brand recognition and reputations to determine where to start in their search for legal representation. Comparing a firm that regularly touts its strong case history, complex cases and good business advice, against a firm that has a similar case history and solid results, but keeps quiet about them, clients are more likely to go with the publicly outspoken firm. They do not appreciate reticence when they're searching for an advocate. They need not look too long or hard to find a notable reference to a firm that’s not afraid to celebrate its accomplishments.
Similarly, firms that find their niche – whether a location, a practice area, a client type or case parameters – take the guesswork out of what these firms can offer clients. Also, by extension, what special expertise their lawyers can offer clients.
U.S.-based litigation firm Kobre & Kim, for example, has carved out a niche for itself by featuring a global platform of U.S.-licensed lawyers and U.K.-qualified barristers and solicitors with offices in the U.S., Asia, Europe and in offshore jurisdictions like the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands. If you’re a Kobre & Kim lawyer, your firm’s reputation has been built, in part, on its expertise with a wide geographic reach. A potential client looking for representation in one of these locations likely will turn to Kobre & Kim, offering you a potential piece of the pie.
Also, accessibility reigns supreme. Much like the “soft skills” that you must possess individually to gain favor with potential clients, firms that are overprotective of their attorneys' information or that lack a welcoming service environment may be a liability to your business. When your clients complain of unhelpful staff, or, you’re discouraged from putting professional contact information on biographies or social media accounts used for business only, your firm’s brand may be negatively impacting your individual brand.
Clients know how careful firms are when they hire lawyers. If you weren’t up to snuff, they reason, you wouldn’t be affiliated with that firm. Law firm branding, therefore, helps define you as someone a potential client will want to seek out.
Your Professional Network Brand
The third indispensable part of a strong brand is that of the networks or organizations that count you as a member. Clients and colleagues, alike, see membership in any reputable professional group as a nod to your expertise. These memberships can enhance your knowledge base and your image as an expert, and can expand your reach by offering endless networking opportunities. But it’s not enough to join up and pay your fees. You don’t necessarily need to be the president of the American Bar Association, but there are many committee officers and important ancillary roles for you to plug into. You must work at fostering and cementing professional alliances by being a connector.
To develop professional relationships and build fulfilling and sustainable networks, you must introduce, praise and share the work of others. It is vital to be present in the room – not just standing there tinkering with your phone but mingling to make the right connections for yourself and others. People remember gestures of goodwill and are incredibly receptive to reciprocating.
Through this platform, you increase your brand’s bandwidth and visibility. As you network and present and share ideas with other members of these associations, your value to them increases exponentially and you’re seen as an authority or thought leader in your area of expertise. What’s more, as your firm, colleagues and clients see you in the same space as other authoritative figures in the legal industry, your value to them increases as well.
So what can you do to bolster your overall brand using these three mechanisms?
Assess and Execute
Begin by taking an inventory of your brand. Determine where your individual strengths lie and what is your position in the market. Map out what your firm’s reputation rests upon. Look at your professional networks and figure out where you may play a more prominent role or whether to join different organizations that may be more closely aligned with your expertise and interests.
Taking this type of inventory will help you better develop a brand-building strategy that will catapult you into the next level of your career.
Once you’ve assessed your current brand strengths and weaknesses, figure out which of the following tactics will help you achieve your desired result of a stronger individual brand:
Look for leadership positions at your firm and within your professional networks.
Contribute substantive works via articles, blog posts and social media platforms.
Speak at events that exhibit your talents and interests and that promise to match you up with your intended audience.
Cultivate new and existing relationships to create new opportunities for you, your firm and your professional networks.
Share and compliment others’ work and build reciprocity.
Focusing your energy on strengthening your individual brand through your affiliation with your firm and through your association with likeminded and well-known contacts is the key to becoming more visible and ultimately building your book of business. Keep that triangle approach at the forefront of your strategy, and your individual brand will, in turn, benefit your firm’s brand and strengthen the renown of your professional networks.
About the Author:
Elizabeth C. Ortega is principal of ECO Strategic Communications, a Miami-based marketing agency that focuses on helping lawyers and law firms achieve their leadership goals in competitive markets around the world. With more than 20 years of experience, she is a marketing strategist and leadership coach who provides effective and impactful counsel to lawyers who are international thought leaders.