In a couple of posts back in 2009, I talked about the importance of a personal brand, as well as its relation to the firm’s brand. Both are important, but the personal brand is more critical since clients hire lawyers in most cases, not the law firm.

In this month’s issue of Law Practice Today, personal branding was the theme, and one article by Jonathan Fitzgarrald caught my attention because it also addressed the interrelationship between the two. Specifically, how a bad personal brand can impact the firm’s. And, if taken a step further, could have an affect on one’s employment longevity. As someone wrote recently in a somewhat different context, but apropos, “you might want to buy a new pair of shoes, because there’s pavement in your future.”

Fitzgarrald suggested some “brand builders” that might help with yours:

  • Take your appearance seriously. You may think you can dazzle potential clients with your brain power alone, but not so if the prospect is hung up on how you look;
  • Keep your message “simple and concise,” (starting with a fine-tuned elevator speech) that conveys how you will “add value to the prospect’s business;”
  • Relate to your listener in a personal way by bringing your personality to the table (not just a dry “lifeless” recitation of your background) and listen more;
  • Focus on providing great client service. Remember that maintaining existing client relationships (or defensive marketing) is just as important as developing new business (with some practice area exceptions, of course). So, spend non-billable time adding value to your client service; and
  • Monitor your brand by seeking feedback from clients and referral sources (e.g., how would they describe you to a stranger), and yes, even from your support staff and peers.

Obviously, your personal brand is very important to your success. It can also impact your relationship with your firm, particularly if they are out of sync.

Over the years I have met many a lawyer who wasn’t into marketing or sales. The reason: the firm will do it. Well, the firm can’t do it. Individual lawyers must, because clients continue to hire lawyers, not law firms.

In a recent article entitled “How to Make It Rain By Marketing Individual Lawyers,” on Law360 the authors, John Hellerman of Hellerman Baretz Communications and Steve Bell, with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, take on the idea that firm branding brings in clients. In fact, they point out the error of Howrey’s extensive advertising and branding of the “Howrey” institution rather than “selling its top products” (naming specific lawyers). They don’t say that branding the law firm doesn’t have a purpose for certain audiences or is a bad thing. Rather, it’s just that “lawyer-level marketing (and sales), … actually bring in clients.” You can read more about their institutional viewpoint and how today’s forces heighten “the need for attorneys to focus on individualized marketing efforts,…” in their article.

My thrust here is on their tips on building your personal brand. Here are a few of my favorites from their 10 suggestions:

  • Define what you do. Not with a standard elevator speech, but rather, what you offer and the need you fill that differentiates you from others. I would add that a good way to ascertain what makes your personal brand different is to ask clients and your key referral sources;
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals. As Hellerman and Bell state, “Referrals are the most effective marketing technique for lawyers,” and, in my experience, account for at least 70% of new business for law firms. Embarrassed to ask? Don’t be. Just tell them that you “are always looking for good clients like them”;
  • Speak to smaller groups. Rather than only look for opportunities to speak at a conference or convention of trade groups on a broad topic, look for opportunities to speak to smaller audiences in practice area specific settings; and
  • Tell stories about your successes. People like stories. More importantly, they like case studies that tell a “powerful story about how a specific lawyer helped a client brings that attorneys skills to life…”

The lesson in all this? Business development is up to you, not the firm.


…If the lawyers who helped establish the brand depart. That is the real lesson of Howrey’s demise, according to John Hellerman. In an excellent article published on Law360 yesterday, he points out how Howrey was praised in recent years for its branding campaign and its success; but couldn’t survive after its heavy hitters left.

That is not to say that there is no such thing as a lasting “institutional brand” developed over many years – such as Skadden’s M&A brand. However, Hellerman goes on to proffer that “if all its (Skadden’s) stellar M&A lawyers walked out the door,” it would likely be only a “few days” before that firm lost its “preeminent M&A” status.

I believe Hellerman is correct. The lesson for law firm marketers is to focus on developing the lawyer’s brand, which in turn will enhance the firm’s brand. The buyers of legal services “…hire the lawyer, not the firm – and although a cliché, it’s (still) true.” Hellerman continues “And if lawyers are what clients are buying, then they should also be what law firms are selling.”

And the lesson for lawyers in any size firm is focus on developing your own brand through speaking, writing, networking, excellent client service, etc., rather than relying on the firm’s branding or “institutional” efforts to keep your plate full.  If it didn’t work for Howrey, it ain’t going to happen in the majority of law firms.

Following up on my post earlier this week where I talked about focusing your marketing on your brand, the question is: do you even know what your brand is? Borrowing again from 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons For Marketing & Communications Professionals by Richard Levick and Larry Smith, today’s meditation tells you how to find out:

"Ask your partners what your brand is and see how many answers you get. Ask your clients and you get even more. If you want to be a brand, they all have to have the same answer."

Simple and to the point. It doesn’t require some high powered focus group to understand what your brand is. I have argued for years that one of the best ways to find out what your brand is would be to ask your clients. You can ask them point blank, or you can ask them how they would describe your firm to a stranger. I also like Smith’s and Levick’s suggestion that you ask your partners. In the case of solos, you can ask other lawyers who know you and your practice.

What you hear the most is likely to be the closest to what your brand really is. So, find out what others say your brand is, then market to that.

As I began to meditate in this new year about a post for today, I decided to go to the old standby 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons from Marketing & Communications Professionals by Larry Smith and Richard Levick with Levick Strategic Communications. The ones for today and tomorrow both refer to Starbucks. Today’s says:

"Coffee and Starbucks are synonymous. That’s the value of a brand. Customers visit Starbucks five times a week, spending money on something that costs much less if they made it at home."

And tomorrow’s:

“Starbucks sells more than 30 different products, but it markets one thing – coffee. Focus your marketing efforts narrowly.”

There are two lessons in all this for law firms. The first is that obviously brands are still important, branding was not and is not a fad, and firms need to remember how key a brand or value statement really is.

The second lesson is that firms should not waste time and resources trying to promote all its practice areas. They should determine what they are really known for (their brand) and focus their marketing efforts narrowly on only one or two practice areas. Remember the old adage attributed to former President John F. Kennedy: “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

A lot of law firms are into taglines. I’ve been involved with the practice when I was in-house. At times I like them, and other times I’m ambivalent. The important question, however, is: Do they help bring in business?

I was talking with a large well-known firm last week that has had a slogan for a number of years that I really like. I’ve seen it in print and on the Internet. It’s cool, and it places the firm well geographically. So, what is it? Won’t tell ya. It appears that the slogan is very controversial within the firm. Some powerful partners love it, and others DO NOT. The solution: two different letterheads. I’m kidding, right? Afraid not.

I remember being in the middle of a similar controversy over a logo in one of my firms earlier in my career. Solution: two letterheads and business cards. So, what happened. One day an associate and partner met with a representative of a Japanese automobile manufacturer in the hopes of landing some business. The partner hands the gentlemen a card sans logo, and the associate hands him a card with the logo. His response in a nutshell: HUH! They didn’t get the work, although I can’t say that was the reason.

If your firm is thinking about getting a tagline or has one that is controversial, the best way to solve the problem is to ask your clients whether they like it or not—or whether they even give a damn. With sufficient input from clients, a firm should be able to decide whether a tagline has any business development value for them.

Thanks to Mark Merenda for getting me thinking about this topic today with his reference to “101 Law Firm Taglines – 2009 Edition” by Steve Mathews over on Stem.

Take a look at these taglines and let me know what you think.

If there is one thing I have preached over the years is to NEVER surprise your clients. In conducting client interviews over the years, I have consistently heard from law firm clients that they HATE surprises. So, what’s up with the title to this post? Have I gone mad? I’ll leave that to others.

By way of explanation, I ran across an interview by Dan Schawbel at Personal Branding Blog with Andy Nulman, author of a book about profiting from the power of surprise when it comes to developing your brand. What I gather that Nulman is talking about is standing out from the crowd, being distinctive…yes even shocking to your target audience.

It got me thinking about what kinds of surprises by law firms would actually “shock”clients in a good way. What immediately came to mind includes:

  • Not just meeting deadlines, producing your work product early;
  • Returning calls promptly, like almost immediately;
  • Discounting a bill without being asked;
  • Raising billing rates only after discussing it with the client;
  • Understanding – really understanding – their business;
  • Letting clients determine the value of a project; and
  • Seeking feedback, and then acting on what you hear.

Maybe surprises are not always a bad thing. And undoubtedly some firms actually get it and have surprised their clients in some of these ways.

So, yes, surprise your clients… but pleasantly in ways that matter.

Your web site, as with all your marketing materials should be consistent and reflect your brand, which hopefully echoes the value you bring to clients who hire the firm. Too few firms do a good job at that. Now, don’t get mad at me. Although I agree with the statement, it really comes from someone who knows and has received dozens of awards for web sites his company has designed over the years.

In an article on branding that appears in the current ABA Journal online, Burkey Belser of Greenfield/Belser Ltd. relates what is wrong with most web sites he has seen. He then shares the three attributes that are present on Baker Hostetler’s site, and should be reflected on any “effective site.” 

They are:

“1) Have a purpose. What do you want the reader to do?
“2) Create a dialogue with the reader.
“3) Position yourself as important, confident and a leader.”

Burkey points out that Baker’s site isn’t perfect, but it is “an exemplar of effective brand­ing.”   What does your web site say about your brand?

This is a similar theme to my post last week about not abandoning your niche in a down economy. It is related in the sense that by turning down work that you do not want, don’t usually handled, and is outside your niche is the right move – at any time – but especially now.

Fellow blogger Bruce Allen over at Marketing Catalyst in a post a couple of days ago makes the point that your marketing can be more profitable in the long run by turning down work that is:

  • Less profitable and desirable
  • Distracts you from spending time with your best clients
  • Causes you to procrastinate and not put forth your best effort
  • Resulting in creating your own “negative referral network”

He sums it up best:

“Even when we feel the desire to panic our best action is to focus even harder on what we do best and turn down anything and everything outside that envelope. That is where profit lives and our success is ensured.”

Makes pretty good sense to me.

If you believe, as I do, that business development (aka selling) is everything you do as a lawyer, then a recent article by Shai Littlejohn that appeared in The National Law Journal and on Small Firm Business about the importance of your personal brand may be of interest.

Your personal brand impacts whether clients hire you or not. I believe that how you act in public, treat your staff, dress, contribute to the community, talk to strangers, act with your clients, etc. etc., is all part of selling yourself to clients, referral sources, and potential clients. Littlejohn’s points are interesting and support that belief.  They include:

  • Your personal brand is how others perceive you, including “work history, reputation, involvement, initiative and personal values”;
  • Whether people think you are “competent, committed, available and willing to offer counseling, sometimes for free”; and
  • Decision-makers are looking for strong personal brands that include “responsiveness, accuracy, discretion, political savvy, family and participation in lofty priorities beyond day-to-day work.”

Some pretty important personal branding elements right there, I’d say.