Why building your personal brand is important

In-house counsel must solidify their identities and reputations through their work

This issue of InsideCounsel focuses on the continuing social media discussion. When your company views social media in a positive light (as an opportunity), it is always hyper-concerned about its branding and reputation. Those concepts win opportunities and consumers. Companies spend tremendous amounts of money solidifying brand and reputation through carefully crafted marketing material, and they fight with bare knuckles when that carefully constructed ideal comes under attack. How can you discuss and embrace these same concepts for you and your team?

It’s important to distinguish between branding and reputation. As in-house lawyers, reputation is the way others see us as a result of our actions (or inaction). Branding is how we convey to others what they are to expect when they work with us. It creates preconceived notions of outcome. Lawyers know that reputation drives us when we are at law firms and in our in-house practice. However, we rarely use the term “branding” as it relates to our groups, our department and ourselves.

Notions of branding and reputation feed consistently into one another. As you work with others, each interaction should be carefully cultivated to portray an image to the other person that will gain his trust and faith. That person then helps build your reputation, and to the extent he shares his positive perception with others, he enhances your brand.  

Your clients’ perception of your abilities as an individual has a tremendous impact on your day and the future of your career. A client that sees you in a positive light may ease up a bit when you go over deadline because of bandwidth. A supervisor who views you as his ace will stand up for you if intracompany squabbles break out and you are at the epicenter. 

Nick Nanton, a well-published personal-branding expert, stresses that in-house lawyers, with business clients as their “top and only clients,” should “do all the little things you would do for [them] if you were out on your own.”  

As prideful people, lawyers sometimes say to me that “as long as I do great work, I don’t have to impress others. I know I am a good lawyer, and the work speaks for itself.” It’s a near certainty that your supervisors and clients will care deeply about how you make them look. If they come out as winners because of your efforts, your brand and reputation are internally enhanced. When you are working extreme hours to little or no fanfare or credit, think about the wins you are helping the company acquire through your protective efforts. 

It’s important to think about how your work can translate into enhancement of your own brand (via a resumé). Make sure you leave room for the big strategic items that win you internal points, as they also translate well if you ever want or need to seek new employment.  

This philosophy creates both a reputation and forward-looking brand. That can be a powerful thing when it comes time to review budget, enhance the tools available to the department and allot bonuses. Those controlling the purse strings may not know how to qualify legal work product success. Their gut may win the day, and that has a tremendous effect on you and your team. This alone could make the self-evaluation of your personal brand and reputation—and that of your team—worthwhile.

 

Stephen Kaplan is senior vice president and general counsel of Connextions Inc.

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