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Personal Branding: A Rose by Any Other Name

Recently there has been debate about the concept of personal branding. Detractors of personal branding argue that companies, objects and services can be branded, but that people cannot be branded in the same way. Much of this debate seems to hinge on the idea that to undertake acts of personal branding, one must relinquish a degree of humanity and individuality. This couldn’t be further from the truth and is purely an issue of semantics.

Branding is the process required to create (and maintain) a controlled and instant impression of the identity or personality of the subject in the minds of the audience. That is, well-executed branding gives humanity and personality to companies, objects and services in order to build relationships with consumers and clients. With successful branding, these impressions evoke strong emotional reactions that can trump reason and result in strong brand loyalty.

Personal branding is not much different. The core difference is personal branding does not create an identity or personality; it merely enhances what is already existing. The challenge for most people is in understanding yourself as others see you. If your personal branding efforts stray too far from your true self, it will appear disingenuous and will cause more harm than good.

As it relates specifically to lawyers, personal branding is the strategic use of your legal expertise, professional appearance, experience and relationships to ensure that others view you in a particular light. 

Judges, opposing counsel, clients and potential clients are all making determinations about you whether you buy into this or not. Engaging in personal branding at least allows you the best possible chance to influence the outcome of said determinations.

Personal Branding Tips for Lawyers 

  • Write down a list of lawyers you know in your area of practice. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see their name? If they were conducting the same exercise – what would they think when they saw your name?
  • Determine how you would like to be perceived. Remember, this is about YOU – not your employer. 
  • Arrange a meeting with someone in your Marketing or PR department, a specialized consultant, or a lawyer who you perceive to have achieved a similar personal brand.
  • Understand the relationship between your personal brand and your firm or company’s brand. Are they complimentary? Do they clash?
  • Develop and frequently review your personal branding plan. While the exact nature every personal branding plan is different, don’t forget to include goals, specific action items that contribute to those goals and realistic deadlines.
  • Look the part! Conduct an appearance audit: Replace ill-fitting, outdated or damaged items, update hairstyles and accessories.
  • Have realistic expectations. A third year lawyer is likely not going to become an expert guest on CNN. 
  • Remember that the best personal branding activities for lawyers are subtle and dignified.
  • Always act in a way that is consistent with your personal branding goals or you risk sabotaging all of your hard work. Tiger Woods and Helena Guergis can vouch that technology and the Internet can be particularly damaging to your personal brand.
  • A personal brand is not exclusively a tool for lawyers in private practice, it can also be a valuable tool for career planning and working with opposing counsel and judges. 

Comments

  1. Dennis McIntee

    Great stuff and articulated well! One personal branding exercise I have done with attorneys is to complete this statement: “I want to be known for _____________ (attribute) so that I produce _____________ (result). Let this be your brand promise and build a strategy around this objective. Thanks for the good post. It helped me spur me on!

  2. Dmitriy Ioselevich

    Good post, Leah! I’ve also seen a great deal of backlash against the personal branding movement for many of the reasons that you stated above. What people don’t realize is that their personal brands exist whether they like or not. It’s up to each individual what he/she wants to do about it. But as you said, ignoring your personal brand may do more harm than good.

    This is especially relevant for lawyers, who depend on a strong reputation to secure client. If you’re interested in more tips about reputation management, please check out the blog at http://brand-yourself.com.