Make your mark: Personal branding for barristers

Posted by Chris Davidson, a director of Legal Futures Associate Moore Legal Technology

What is it that makes you stand out from the crowd?

A recent Legal Futures article reported that the number complaints involving use of social media by barristers is increasing. The BSB have warned that “as social media and the internet become more prominent in our daily lives, there is an increasing need for barristers to be very careful about what they post whether in their professional or personal lives”.

While inappropriate use of social media isn’t anything new, what struck me when reading that paragraph is that, for barristers, I would argue, there shouldn’t be a defining line between the personal and professional. As a barrister, you are your own USP, your personal brand is everything.

You may have heard experts, particularly when talking about social media, say that it’s important to separate your personal and professional brands, but really, there is only one of you, so you technically only have one brand. Breaking that down and maintaining personal sub-brands sounds like awfully hard work. One personal brand. Make the most of it.

What is your personal brand

You might associate the term ‘branding’ with companies like Virgin, Apple, Nike etc. Today, every individual has a personal brand too, albeit, one that is very rarely cultivated or leveraged, particularly in the still very traditional legal sector.

When you read the term ‘personal brand’, you may automatically think of uber-celebrities like Jamie Oliver, or the ‘Queen of Personal Branding’, Oprah Winfrey. However, it is no longer a question of whether you have a personal brand. The question is whether you choose to cultivate it or risk inadvertently developing negative brand equity through misguided, non-strategic use of potential brand building touch points.

These might include everything from social media as mentioned above, to networking events, speaking opportunities, blogging, even how you communicate with your clients and colleagues.

So, how can barristers take control and start to develop their own personal brand?

Think of yourself in terms of brand

When we take on a new law firm client, the first thing we do is undertake a ‘Vision’ meeting with them. One of the aims of this meeting is to help us develop a better understanding of how the firm views itself in terms of its brand and value proposition.

This often requires some deeper reflection on the part of the client as it’s often the case that the concept of the firm as a brand isn’t something that’s ever been fully articulated or shared firm wide.

To help with this process, we provide the client with a questionnaire that asks a range of questions, including:

  • What do you offer that your immediate competitors do not?
  • What is your main USP (unique selling point)?
  • Why should people choose you, not your competitor?
  • What are the strongest benefits you deliver to clients?
  • What are your firm’s human personality traits?
  • What is your brand theme? What words or phrases define and articulate the essence of your brand in a clear, concise and compelling manner?
  • What is your brand promise? What do you always aim to deliver to your clients?
  • When somebody thinks of your name, what do you want them to associate you with?
  • Is there a certain area of service in which you want to be perceived as an expert?
  • Are there qualities you want be associated with (e.g. empathy, strength, tenacity, aggression etc)?

Once you start to build a clearer understanding of how you wish your personal brand to be perceived, you can start to be much more strategic about how you market yourself.

Identify your value proposition

Every business has a value proposition and you should too. What makes you, as an individual, attractive to potential clients? What is it that makes you special? Why should someone instruct you as opposed to myriad barristers offering similar services across similar areas of practice?

Audit your online presence

Perhaps not surprisingly, given that our raison d’être is helping lawyers use the internet more effectively to grow their business, we can’t stress enough the importance of being in control of your online presence.

What happens when you Google your name? All good, I’m sure! Your up-to-date bio on your chambers’ website. Your carefully considered and regularly updated LinkedIn profile. Your glowing legal directory references. Your latest tweet etc. Right? Hopefully. But there may also be a negative review here, an article in a newspaper that casts you in a less than positive light there.

It’s important when creating a strong personal brand to try as far as possible to own the conversation and, where necessary, be responsive to what is being said. Don’t ignore negative sentiment. Work towards owning the online space around your name. Having a personal website for yourself is one of the best ways to do this.

Develop your own personal website outwith chambers

We are regularly contacted by barristers who aren’t satisfied with the one-page bio published on their chambers’ website and recognise that there is far more they could be doing online to marketing themselves.

For example, if you are targeting large law firms and other professional services firms and most of your new business is introduced to you via referral, then your online strategy to support your personal brand should focus on thought leadership, on supporting the weight of your reputation and providing potential instructing agents with the certainty that you are indeed the person they need to speak to.

On the other hand, if you are looking to compete with law firms by targeting organic enquires via direct access, then a different approach will be required.

Find ways to produce value

As mentioned at the outset of this article, barristers aren’t always great at leveraging social media to build their personal brand.

In our opinion, the most successful use of social media within the legal sector comes from individuals who have a real passion for their niche and use relevant social platforms to knowledge share, debate issues, establish a position of thought leadership etc.

But this is only if it is done properly, strategically, and within the confines of an overarching communications plan that is aligned with your personal brand. Find ways to add value to your audience by creating or curating content that’s in line with your brand and of genuine interest/value to your audience.

Be strategic in what you share

One legal Twitter account I follow that I think is a good example of somebody getting it just about right is that of tax barrister Jo Maugham QC‏. He may polarise opinion in certain circles, but he uses the platform in the manner suggested in the previous paragraph, and whether by design or accident, has developed a strong personal brand that includes a robust online presence.

Every tweet you send, every status update you make, every picture you share, contributes to your personal brand. Once you understand how you wish your brand to be perceived, you can start to be much more strategic about what you share.

Associate with other strong brands

Your personal brand is strengthened or weakened by your connection to other brands.

For example, Jo is also member of leading civil and commercial set Devereux Chambers and regularly invited to comment on tax issues by quality broadsheets (Financial Times, The Times, The Guardian), magazines (New Statesman, Tax Journal, The Lawyer) and TV (BBC’s Panorama, Channel 4’s Dispatches).

Find and leverage strong brands which can elevate your own personal brand.

Be yourself

Imagine how tiring it would be to build your personal brand around a version of you that wasn’t really you at all.

While a certain element of building a personal brand is, as mentioned previously, about owning the conversation, shaping and moulding what others see, your personal brand should, in essence be a reflection of who you are.

Don’t be afraid to share what you believe in and what you stand for (while, of course, applying a healthy dose of common sense).

Stay relevant

No matter how well you know your area of expertise, you must stay visibly up-to-date with the latest changes and trends relevant to your areas of expertise, otherwise all your effort in building your personal brand will be wasted.

Take control of your personal brand

As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has famously said: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” If you don’t take control of the conversation around your personal brand, somebody else will.

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