Marketing: managing the firm and the lawyer’s brands
Francesc Dominguez explores the mutually beneficial approach of marketing both the lawyer and the firm.
"In Europe, law firms are the ones who build their brand, not lawyers, which is why your book is so interesting and relevant."
These words come from a lawyer talking about my recent books, written with a humanistic approach: The Lawyer's personal brand: Boost your professional career, and Legal Marketing: From a competent law firm to a competitive one. How to achieve it.
In fact, it would also be right to say in Europe, only a few firms have managed to build a strong brand. This is true not only for Europe, but also for the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Latin American, Asian and African countries, among others.
What is a brand?
A brand is the perception we have generated in the market with our actions. The brand is the reason we are hired or rejected. It is the mark we leave. It is the concept with which our (potential) clients associate us with. Perception is what makes or breaks our business. We are our brand; the brand is you. It is therefore surprising how little or no attention firms pay to their brand, their most important intangible asset.
When asked "why should a potential client hire your services over those of your competitors?", partners from every nationality, in large firms as well as in medium and small ones, often cannot give a convincing - from a potential client's point of view - answer. Lawyers tend to cite reasons related to the services they provide; often rational messages that do not encourage the desire to hire them.
Competitors can copy services, they do not constitute a sustainable competitive advantage, durable over time. How are you going to stand apart from your competitors if you do not know what makes you different? The paradox is firms think they know but are usually unaware that what differentiates them must be consistent not only with what potential clients need, but above all with what they desire. Potential clients' desire drives their hiring behaviour.
Finding and building the best version of the firm drives the success of the firm's brand. To do this, it is essential everyone in the team - lawyers, internal collaborators, even the support staff - recognises and develops the best version of themselves to ensure greater success in meeting their personal and aggregate business goals.
However, in the real world, firms show no will to act on their brand management, either because of their lack of interest, ignorance, fear or mistrust. Firms that manage their brand focus on the firm brand or that of the managing director or CEO, not the personal brand of the individual partners or lawyers, who are then less likely to achieve potentially more ambitious business goals. Without proper brand management you either miss opportunities or you miss long-term success.
This is why many partners in large firms who find no encouragement or support from their company for their personal brand management, seek independent, external personal branding advice.
I am also struck by the simplistic association between personal branding and one’s presence on social media. It is a superficial conception of what is meant by personal brand management. Those who believe in it base the management of their brand on tactics, on contacts with their market, instead of focusing on laying the foundations first, i.e., preparing, training and laying down their strategy, which must precede tactics and actions. Imagine trying to compete in a sports tournament without any prior training?
Why do actions or tactics without a strategy or groundwork take you only a short way? Because to meet new challenges we need a basis, we need to work on ourselves to identify - from a market point of view - the best version of ourselves as lawyers, the effect our actions cause on others and determine our own strategies in addition to our already reputed strategies to solve clients' issues. We need to work on ourselves to know what we need to strengthen and avoid missing opportunities in our career.
What differentiates a firm? People. If we believe that, we would probably agree that to empower the firm it is essential to find and develop the best version of ourselves as lawyers, in a manner consistent with the firm’s values and strategy and with loyalty.
The key elements are people and our determination to develop the best version of ourselves to achieve our goals with greater likelihood. Success depends on our commitment.
The brand is a treasure that should be nurtured and strengthened and in a firm where trust prevails, all lawyers (CEO, partners, associates and juniors) should work on their personal brand. First, by enhancing their self-awareness to search and find the best version of themselves to reinforce their good name and in doing so, they will build on the reputation of their firm, increasing its capacity to attract new clients.
It is estimated that up to 48 per cent of a company’s reputation and financial performance can be attributed to the standing of its CEO. In short, intangible assets such as brand and reputation are also financial assets.
Does your firm manage its personal brands? If you have a marketing or communication department, you will probably think you do. Or if you think that marketing is about promoting, you will possibly think so too. But I am not talking about promotion, I am talking about something much deeper that precedes it, that stems from self-awareness, from knowing the perception your circles of trust have of you and what Internet says about you. The key is to find the best version of you as a lawyer and, only then, make it known effectively in the market to attract and get the type of clients you want to have and probably deserve.
Building more trust
When a firm works with competent lawyers who are honest, good people, it has the foundations it needs to build trust and with it a positive brand in the market, as long as it manages its firm and personal brand well. It is a question of setting aside the fear, suspicion and mistrust towards personal brand management and replacing it with trust.
If lawyers can overcome their limitations and become the best version of themselves as lawyers, while staying loyal to the firm, both will benefit. And if the firm manages its brand well, lawyers' personal prestige spreads as a result of being part of that legal brand. This two-way system benefits all.
Most firms do not have a method to care for their brands, which complicates its positioning and market perception and limits its possibilities. Jumping on the bandwagon is rarely desirable. It may feel satisfying initially because of the apparent comfort of conforming to a group, but it involves a risk: for those who do not clearly define and communicate their differential value are bound to miss opportunities.
Take good care of yourself and your brand and multiply the chances of gaining a rare treasure. Those who care for their brand have a rare treasure.
Francesc Dominguez is a legal marketing and personal branding consultant francescdominguez.com