This week I spent a day working with 3 senior lawyers helping them start a partner-sized practice. For each of the three, I helped them define and articulate their brand. It only occurred to me as I reflected on my conversations that wherever you are in your career you need to have built a brand and then generated brand equity. In this article, I will explain what I mean by a brand, as it relates to an individual, and how this brand will need to change to progress your career in the professions.
What do I mean by a BRAND?
Brand: The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.
This is a fine definition if you have a product you are trying to sell. But what if your product is actually you? In my experience, success in the professions comes from a realisation that you are always selling you to your peers, assignment managers, and then clients and introducers. The key words I want to pick out from the definition are:
identifies and differentiates
We all have a personal brand now. Your personal brand is who you are, who you want to be, and how people perceive you. If you want to (to coin phrases from the marketers) build brand equity or increase your market value, you need to make sure you:
differentiate yourself and build your profile.
That is, you need to stand out and be known. When you become well known, your brand equity can increase dramatically due to people associating an emotional attachment and perceived quality to working with you. Regardless of where you are in your career, to progress and be successful you need to have cultivated the right brand and proactively built brand equity.
Trainee, newly qualified, assistant, solicitor, senior?
At the early stage in your career, your challenge is to get onto the right teams and projects and be championed by the key influencers in your firm. So, what kind of brand will help you do this? It is typically one where you:
- take an interest in the commercial aspects of the work you are given, not just the small part of the project in front of your desk,
- take the initiative,
- are a great team player,
- deliver great work with a minimum of errors,
- realise how to deliver excellent client service,
- remain positive and upbeat regardless of what bad stuff is currently happening,
- demonstrate in your actions and words how committed you are to the firm and its vision,
- bring your work in under budget, and
- communicate in a timely and appropriate manner to your peers, team leader and other colleagues.
These attributes are ones which will help you be seen as partnership potential.
Supervisor, junior manager, associate, manager?
Up until this point in your career you have been aiming to gain a broad skill set to make sure you can be booked onto more jobs or given more cases to work upon. Now you need to start thinking about what technical or sector specific skill set you will want to develop. The earlier you do this thinking, the easier it becomes to build a business case for partner. So, what kind of brand will help you do this? It is typically one where you are known for:
- hitting your numbers and KPIs,
- being good at leading a small team, including delegating and nurturing more junior members of staff,
- doing your work to a decent quality level within the budget you have been given,
- being a safe pair of hands to delegate work to,
- remaining positive and upbeat,
- building strong client relationships as well as strong relationships with other advisors working on a project/deal/case for your client,
- considering the bigger picture and commercial aspects of any work or conversation you have with a client,
- a growing specialism in either a type of person, e.g. ultra high net wealth individuals, a sector, e.g. retail, or a particular technical specialism, e.g. VAT.
Senior Manager, Senior Associate, Director, Legal Counsel, Legal Director?
This is the stage where you start looking up towards the partner role. This means starting to build your personal and business case for partnership. The type of brand you now want to develop is very much a continuation of the last stage in your career, i.e:
- hitting your numbers and KPIs,
- trusted to have an element of managerial or leadership responsibility within the firm, not just leading a small team,
- maintain strong relationships and using these to generate more work from existing clients and new clients,
- having a good ‘little black book’ of contacts, i.e. a strong internal and external network,
- a known specialism both internally and externally,
- relied upon to support the partners and be able to stand in for them,
- able to be semi-autonomous with the work you do and only need a minimum of supervision or review from the partners,
- be started to seen as “one of us” by your partners,
- always thinking about the bigger picture and commercial aspects of any work or conversations you have with a client, and
- thinking more like an owner of the business than a senior fee earner.
You need to carefully consider the personal brand and the equity in your brand as you progress your career within the professions.