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by Paramjit L. Mahli, The Sun Communication Group | August 27, 2009


The current legal market body-bag count since January 2008 stands at about 13,300 according to Law Shucks’ “Layoff Tracker.”  Above the Law churns out a steady stream of “This firm laid off this many today…and that firm closed the doors to this office yesterday” stories.

Big changes are ahead for the legal industry and the business of law.  History has shown repeatedly that in uncertain, weak economic times, great fortunes can be made.  For attorneys (or even aspiring attorneys)—whether they are pursuing the partner track, running their own practices, or preparing to graduate from law school—there are proactive measures that must be taken to build your brand.

Translation: getting down and dirty with shameless self-promotion.

Each lawyer comes to the table with a different set of experiences.  Your grades, where you worked as summer associate, your extracurricular activities, what part of the country/world you work in, what schools you went to, your current employer, and so on.  All of these elements are critical in formulating brand You. (The term ‘brand You’ was coined by Tom Peters in a 1997 Fast Company article.) For better or worse, all of these things set each lawyer apart from the competition.

The other part of brand You is taking ownership of your career as a business.  Recognize what qualities set you apart from your peers and find opportunities to market them to others.  Working to find brand You will strengthen what you have to offer as a lawyer. 

There are three ways to build brand You: Networking, getting published and speaking engagements.

1. Networking

One of the biggest hindrances when it comes to networking is mindset.  In his book, Never Eat Alone, author Keith Ferrazzi says the key to networking is serving others—it’s not about what they can do for you.  Having an aggressive, “take-no-prisoners” mentality might work when you’re arguing a case, but it will not help you outside of the courtroom.  Being kind and helpful to those who cannot necessarily do anything for you is not only a humane and decent policy—it can take you far in your career! 

Below are some action items for networking effectively:

• Become active in a discussion at an event or conference, but do not start passing around your business cards and selling yourself until you have brought forth and exchanged ideas with the group.
• Follow up within 24 hours after meeting a contact.  Preferably with a handwritten note, but most definitely by e-mail.
• Send thank-you cards to event organizers. You want them to invite you back, so show them that it meant a lot for you to attend—especially if this  audience is a target group.  It also shows that you took the time out of your busy day to sit down, handwrite a note, put a stamp on it and drop it in the mail.  If you show your appreciation, it may pay off down the line with a reference, job offer or another opportunity.
• If you promise to do something or send something to someone, do it.  Whenever you fail to follow through, your credibility diminishes.

2. Getting Published

Creating personal buzz is about consistent recognition.  If your name and/or law firm is published (digitally or in print) your credibility is heightened.  Even something as simple as your name being listed as a committee member in a program guide reinforces brand You.  In today’s climate where “Content is King,” there are myriad ways to get your name out there.

Getting articles published in trade publications, magazines and newspapers have long been considered important benchmarks for building reputations as thought leaders and experts in specific markets for all businesses.  Bar associations’ newsletters often have volunteer editorial positions, whether you’d like to write or edit.  These opportunities will lead to getting to know other lawyers of all professional levels and from other firms.  Used strategically, this can often provide gateways to jobs in law firms.

Where you can be published:

• Start your own blog dedicated to an area of your expertise
• Get quoted in a news article that requires an expert opinion from your area of law.
• Get listed on the web site and letterhead of a corporate or non-profit board.
• Write and publish articles (not advertorials) for trade publications, bar newsletters, trade newsletters, local community papers, and web sites.  For newsletters especially, you never know who the subscribers will forward the articles to.
• Post comments on blogs or news web sites.
• Get listed as a speaker or panelist.
• Collaborate on a project that will be published.  This is especially valuable for those associates who want to build their rainmaking skills.  Do the work and get your byline in a published article.

Now, granted, getting immediate attention in the press is very possible, but it is dependent on a number of factors, such as timing, area of expertise, what the current news cycle is covering, and availability and accessibility of attorneys.

When approached strategically, getting published can help you:

• Increase the law firm's visibility with key constituents.
• Begin building relationships with editors of publications read by your target market.
• Enhance the law firm, attorneys, and associates’ reputations.
• Gain exposure to new audiences.
• Build referral relationships with other attorneys.
• Establish your expertise.
• Give prospective clients a way to sample your knowledge.

Undoubtedly, there will always be other competing interests for your time, but understand that, when done well, articles can be leveraged into other marketing activities, such as incorporating them into blog postings and white papers, republishing them in your firm's newsletter, and utilizing pieces of them in speeches or presentations.  Rather than just receiving a check from the trade-publication editor, consider your ‘payment’ an extended byline or resource box. 

3. Speaking Engagements 

Like it or not, speaking engagements are a very important component of a public relations plan for any law firm intent on growth.

Recently, all the panelists at a CLE event I attended agreed that giving seminars on topics that clients and prospects are interested in is a good method of building business.  Whether you fear public speaking or if your workload leaves you with little free time, it is important to find ways to incorporate speaking as part of your public-relations plan.

Countless well-known marketers such as Dan Kennedy agree that speaking engagements are one of the fastest ways to get new clients.  Let’s face it: chances to speak to rooms full of prospective clients are priceless. 

By speaking at conferences and forums put together by professional- and industry-trade groups, attorneys can increase their firms’ visibility and consequently their prospects for attracting new business.  Speaking gives the speaker special status, thus making it easier for speakers to meet prospects.  Attendees expect speakers to reach out to the audience, and in turn, they give speakers respect and credibility.  According to the American Society of Association Executives, the conferences and meeting industry is a $56 billion market.  Industry associations, corporations and nonprofit organizations are continually seeking a roster of good speakers—especially when they don’t have to pay them. 

Aside from the obvious goal of bringing in new clients, assessing other long- and short-term objectives of speaking engagements are equally important.  These may include:
• Building strategic alliances with trade organizations.
• Increasing newsletter subscriptions.
• Exposing the firm to new prospects.
• Networking with other panelists.
• Building your profile with a group.

About the author:

Paramjit L. Mahli, a former journalist and news Emmy Judge, is one of the founders of SCG Legal PR Network—a network that provides legal experts as sources for reporters.  For more information please visit:



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