Making law firm partner requires strong legal skills, but that is not all. From the time you begin your career as an associate, you must also begin carefully cultivating a personal brand that demonstrates who you are in the legal marketplace. A personal brand distinguishes you from other firm associates and eventually allows you to differentiate yourself in the broader legal community. Your brand is how you sell yourself to clients, create opportunities to move to another firm or in-house, and make your case for partnership. A strong, defined brand gives lawyers independence, mobility, and is crucial for building long-term career success. Below are four tips to help you build your personal brand.
Begin with Mentor Relationships
At the beginning of your career, you are unknown to clients and the broader legal market. However, that can quickly change through mentorship with a seasoned partner. Your affiliation with an established partner provides instant credibility and creates a foundation for building your professional reputation.
The most fruitful mentorship relationships occur when you take initiative to invest in your mentor's success. You can add value to your relationship with your mentor by writing articles, giving presentations, creating content for clients, developing conference topics, networking at events and assisting with client pitches. Brainstorming other ways to be helpful, such as forwarding interesting articles to your mentor, is another way to become invaluable and compel your mentor to be fully invested in your success.
You should also be clear about your short- and long-term career goals so that your mentor can help guide you toward success. Once you have made your desires known, a strong mentor should create opportunities for you. However, if you are not receiving the guidance and support you need, you should seek other mentors.
Develop a Brand with Non-Billables
While working in a particular practice area is the most important way to build expertise, taking on projects that demonstrate your knowledge to a broader audience outside your firm is critical for boosting your personal brand and garnering future clients.
There are multiple ways to create the image you are trying to project: Blogging, participating in podcasts, recording videos, publishing articles, speaking at conferences or taking on pro bono projects can all be good ways to exhibit your expertise.
While many lawyers find it difficult to take on non-billable projects, these activities are crucial, even if it means sacrificing personal time. If your ultimate goal is to make partner, these non-billable activities will distinguish you from other associates, allow you to create your own niche for attracting clients and play a critical role in developing a successful and satisfying legal career.
Continually Reassess Your Brand
A brand allows you the freedom to highlight your law practice in a way that transcends basic labels, such as "litigation lawyer" or "IP lawyer." For example, a transactional attorney may highlight that he is at a Chambers-ranked real estate practice specializing in REIT work or market himself as specializing in serving aviation clients. A litigator may focus on her firm's capabilities dealing with large-scale complex commercial litigation or may market herself as one of a few attorneys in her city litigating data privacy issues. However, your work may change throughout your career, and your brand must reflect these shifts.
To maintain the appropriate image for your brand, you should regularly reassess it to determine whether it accurately represents your capabilities and legal expertise. Reflect on your practice areas and market differentiators and evaluate them against your current brand. If they no longer align, update your brand.
You should also seek feedback from clients, mentors and colleagues to determine if your brand communicates the right message. If their feedback does not reflect the message you would like to communicate, make adjustments to better showcase your capabilities and distinguishing characteristics.
Keep Goals in Mind
It is also important to ensure your brand aligns with your career aspirations. You should consider your long-term goals: to work in-house, establish your own firm or be partner at your current firm. Once your goals are established, you can assess whether your brand comports with these goals.
If your current firm and mentorship opportunities support your goals and brand, you are on a great path. If not, you may need to make difficult choices that better support your personal identity as a lawyer. That might mean finding a different mentor at your current firm, switching practice areas or moving to a firm with an established platform in a desired niche. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what's best for your career and carefully plan to achieve those goals.
In today's competitive market, partnership is not an easy path, and legal skills alone are not enough to make partner. Developing a personal brand can help you carve out your niche in the market and demonstrate your expertise. When you develop a strong personal brand from the beginning of your career, you will have greater potential to make partner and be better positioned as an authority in your practice area, which helps to build a portable book of clients. It takes time and work to create a personal brand, but once the foundation is set, the benefits are well worth the effort.
* * * * * * * *
Rebecca Glatzer is a Managing Director in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Associate Practice Group. She specializes in placing associates of all levels in top-tier national, international, and regional law firms and companies throughout the Southeast U.S.