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Building A Profitable Personal Brand

Today, I came across “Be Yourself: It’s Good For Business,” on the SmartBlog for Social Media, discussing a speech given by personal branding expert Michelle Villalobos.  I started to write a post about how legal marketers, can use the tips in the article to help attorneys engage with clients and build their own brands.

And then I remembered the advice that John Hodder gave to attendees of the 2011 Virginias Chapter CME during his program “What Does It Mean to Me?  Increasing Your Value as a Legal Marketer”.  He said:

As legal marketers, we should be doing the same things with our clients (the lawyers) that we tell/help our lawyers to do with their clients.

After thinking about John’s advice, I realized that the tips that Michelle offers can apply equally to attorneys and to legal marketers seeking to build their own brand within their firms, the industry, or elsewhere.  Here are a few of my favorite tips:


  • “Begin within. ‘You have to start by figuring out who you are before you can build a brand.’”

For Yourself:  What do you want your personal brand to be?  We each have different styles and approaches to marketing, and it’s critical that you learn about your strengths and weaknesses as you define your path.  Throughout my professional life, I’ve been able to figure out who I am inside the office…and it’s pretty similar to who I am outside of it.  I relate to my attorneys and coworkers in a way that’s uniquely “me”, and I find that people respond well to an authentic, professional persona.  Of course, there are always special situations or personality types that the “authentic you” may rub the wrong way- remain vigilant about assessing how others respond to you.


  • Ask “What’s your red sole?” Thanks to a recent court decision, Christian Louboutin has an enforceable trademark on red-soled shoes. With a few exceptions, he is the only one who can sell red-soled shoes. You need to pinpoint what is unique about you — not something that applies only to a few other people, but something that applies only to you. For most of us, this is only going to be one or two specific things.

For Your Attorneys: Do they have an area of experience (industry, jurisdiction, technical background, etc.) that they can build their practice and personal brand around?  How can they work this “red sole” into their elevator speech?

For Yourself:  What are your strengths?  How can you use your firm’s resources or work with your team to put your talents on display…and shore up your weaknesses?   How does your “red sole” help you in your career?  What issues can it cause?


  • Post valuable content. Write blog posts and use social media to pass along useful content that relates to your brand. Be sure to tag everything with your name, so it all leads back to you.

For You and Your Attorneys:  What’s the best kind of business development?  Any kind that an attorney will do consistently.  Can you commit to providing valuable content on a blog?  If not: don’t start one.  (Says the blogger who is writing her first post in 10 days…)  Are you offering something new to your LinkedIn connections or Twitter followers, or just rehashing old news?  Identify and play to strengths.  ”Valuable content” can be delivered in a multitude of ways, ranging from the modern (blogs, Twitter, etc.) to the basic (speaking at conferences, writing articles) to the old-fashioned (a well-timed, well-thought-out visit with a client).


  • Speak in public. If you’re unsure or inexperienced, just start practicing.

For Your Attorneys:   If you have an attorney with an engaging manner, interesting story or great case, help them get out there.  Establish the attorney as a thought leader by seeking out strategic opportunities…or by creating them through a client event or CLE program.

For Yourself:  We’re not all public speakers- and that’s fine.  But you have to get out from behind your email address and speak with (and to) your attorneys.   Although I’m not personally afraid of public speaking,  I occasionally defer to others in group settings where I should be the one steering the meeting.  This week, I “spoke publicly,” taking charge of a meeting that had been mired in inconsequential details for 45 minutes.  By speaking authoritatively, clearly, professionally and pleasantly, we were able to walk out of the meeting with concrete, big-picture (and very necessary) action items.  Was I scared?  Yes.  Does putting yourself out there always work?  No.  But is the legal marketer who doesn’t engage with attorneys seen as someone who adds value?  I’ll let you think on that.


  • Prepare for haters. When you set out to establish and promote a strong brand, “there will be haters, but there will be people who love you more and they’re the ones who count,” said Villalobos. “Surround yourself with people who love and support you and who think you’re great!” 

For You and Your Attorneys:  Expressing strong ideas and creating a strong brand can create strong feelings…sometimes negative.  Make sure that as you or your attorneys work on individual or team brands, that you’re not running afoul of your firm or clients.

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