It’s Never Too Early to Raise Your Profile
Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.
In today’s fast-paced legal world, it is easy for young lawyers to convince themselves that they don’t have time to worry about networking, raising their profile and creating a personal brand. Have you ever said anything like this to yourself?
“It already takes Herculean effort to meet the billable hour requirements around here. I’m not going to waste my time giving away free advice or hanging out with a bunch of schmoozers.”
“I went to a smaller firm so I wouldn’t have to put on a game face. The partners here like my work, and that’s enough.”
“The point of going in-house was so I wouldn’t have to play politics and could have time for a life. I only need to keep my boss happy.”
“I’m just an associate. Clients aren’t going to come to me anyway, so why bother?
Why That’s Foolhardy
Even before the “Great Recession,” I would have argued that those beliefs were short-sighted, in light of U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics about the number of job changes most workers have today. Even if you don’t move, each year law firms place increasing emphasis on business development ability as a condition for advancement. In the wake of unprecedented layoffs in the legal world and the current buyer’s market for legal services, the beliefs described above amount to reckless endangerment of your career.
Reputations and vibrant networks can take years to develop, but they decline much more rapidly, when neglected. For that reason, even young associates should devote some time to investing in relationships, expanding their networks, and developing a personal brand now, before they need them. Don’t wait until you need clients, a job, crucial information, an introduction, or advice. By then it’s too late.
Like a jolt of Red Bull, raising your profile can give your career wings. When you become more visible in the community of lawyers or in the community of your clients, that can help you: 1) keep your job; 2) get a new job; and 3) develop business. Here’s how it works:
When a young lawyer develops name recognition in the bar or the community, she demonstrates that she is a savvy go-getter to the “Powers-That-Be.” Few young attorneys put in that kind of effort, so the ones who do, stand out. The partners’ primary concerns may be that you bill lots of hours, but you still have to do something more to distinguish yourself from the crowd. Your visibility can help keep you top-of-mind when they staff up that plum project that will give you great experience. When business slacks off, associates with the most experience are the least dispensable. Additionally, it is much easier to lay off a nameless face in the crowd, than a real person the partners recognize.
Whether your move is intentional or involuntary, you’ll need to attract the attention of potential employers. With a stack of resumes on the desk, they are more likely to read and pay attention to the one with a name that seems familiar.
Name recognition tends to create an assumption of competence. Psychologists call it the “halo effect“. When people perceive a positive trait in someone, they have a tendency to associate other positive traits with them, as well. As a result, you are more likely to be perceived favorably in an interview by someone who has heard you speak or encountered you in connection with local bar association matters.
An old axiom reminds us that people want to do business with someone they know, like, and trust. Lawyers with a high profile have more people who feel like they know them, at least superficially. As previously mentioned, potential clients tend to assume that visibility indicates competency. If you raise your profile by speaking or writing, you also have the opportunity to demonstrate expertise and build relationship with an audience of potential clients.
How to Raise Your Profile
1. Bar association work. Bar associations provide the most easily accessible opportunities for young lawyers to develop name recognition. Act on leadership opportunities in the young lawyer division of your state or local bar. Join committees in the larger bar. You may need to “pay your dues” before seeking a leadership position, but volunteer organizations almost always appreciate workers, and you might have an opportunity to step right in as a committee chair. Lawyers send their referrals to friends, and co-workers develop friendships. Make sure you keep involved and follow through on your commitments in a timely manner. The “halo effect” has its negative counterpart. If you do a sloppy job on the committee, the other lawyers, who are potential referral sources, may assume you practice law sloppily as well. Show up regularly to build relationships and demonstrate reliability. Sporadic attendance can unconsciously convey unreliability.
2. Client associations. Get involved in organizations where your potential clients or referral sources tend to gather. The boards of trade associations often welcome the participation of lawyers. They want their guidance and expertise. If there isn’t an industry association relating to your potential clients, is there one for your referral sources? A wills and trusts lawyer may want to get involved with special education, for example. A business lawyer may meet referring CPAs at “Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts.”
3. Speaking and writing for other lawyers. Seek out opportunities to write articles or updates about the law in your area of practice. As a young lawyer, you might not feel qualified to speak as an expert, but you’re more adept at research than most older lawyers. Can you turn a research memo into an article for a newsletter or a bar journal? You can also speak to lawyers in other practice areas about an element of your practice that may affect theirs. For example, a criminal lawyer might warn family lawyers about how the wiretap laws can impact the use of information gathered from a spouse’s computer during a divorce.
4. Speaking and writing for lay persons. Even if you fear that you don’t know enough to speak or write for other lawyers, you surely know more about your area of the law than the general public. Pick a topic of common concern or something in the news, and write an article for an industry newsletter or the local paper. Young real estate attorneys can speak to commercial real estate agents. Business lawyers can speak to the Chamber of Commerce. The service organizations like Rotary Club and Lions Club need speakers every week.
5. Social media. Use social media and the firm newsletter to publicize your activities and your articles. Post your articles on JD Supra. Announce your speaking events on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Perhaps you can be an important player in your firm’s or your company’s exploration of how to take advantage of social media. You can lead in-house trainings on how to use social media.
Your exposure is really only limited by your imagination. Begin today to take charge of your career and your personal brand. It’s never too early.
Adapted from and reprinted with permission from the author’s article in the April 8, 2010 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. © 2010 Incisive Media US Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.