A chapter by Deborah Farone from the book “Running Legal Like a Business: The Fundamentals of Legal Operations for Law Departments,” by Connie Brenton and Susan Raridon Lambreth.
Imagine having the perfect role within a great legal department. Each day, you’re adding value and doing the work you love. The most innovative assignments seem to fall from the sky. You find it easy to foster cooperation up and down the organization ladder and across various departments. When you bring teams together, they readily share concepts, offer spectacular ideas, and execute the most brilliant projects. Best of all, once they’ve collaboratively accomplished their goals, they freely share credit.
Wouldn’t that be ideal? Of course, you’ll need talented individuals from your highly regarded law firm, in-house legal depart- ment, legal operations team, and others. But imagine how much more you could accomplish and how much money you’d save by leading teams that work well together. Pipe dream? Not really. It’s about having a strong personal brand.
Think about the requests you get from individuals in other departments. To whom would you respond faster, Barbara or Bonnie? Barbara has a reputation for developing creative solutions that are actionable and delivered on time. Her projects are best known for helping achieve the goals of your department. Then there’s Bonnie. Bonnie regularly spends a half-hour on the phone until she eventually gets to the point of the call. But when she finally arrives at her intention, you aren’t convinced that her work is important to the company. You’ve heard that she frequently misses deadlines. Her Facebook page, though, is updated several times daily.
The answer is probably Barbara.
You generally respond to colleagues based on prior experiences and often what you’ve heard or seen of their work. These are elements that become part of a personal brand. The more you understand the factors that comprise personal brand, the more effectively you can use these tools.
The Facets of Personal Brand
Personal brand is a complex paradigm composed of many facets.
You form beliefs or opinions about others based on what you hear about them, what others think, as well as your own experiences. Are they someone who completes tasks? Do they share credit? Are they likely to require a great deal of time to complete an assignment because they didn’t understand it in the first place? When inputs to that reputation come from some- one you respect, the influence is even stronger. If you’ve heard great things about someone from more than one source, that may also impact the strength of what you think. These opinions shape your approach to them and inform your interactions with them.
Take these ideas and turn them around to see how they apply to you. Ask yourself these questions about your closest colleagues, not just those to whom you report:
- What do people experience when they work with me?
- What is the response I receive when I engage with them on an idea?
- What do others think of me and my work style?
Prior experiences underscore personal brand. Last year, you may have worked with Bonnie. What do you remember? Was it an easygoing interaction that resulted in a positive outcome, or was it a difficult one? Did she thank you and share credit with you when she reported on the results to senior leaders at the end of the project?While on-time delivery is important, follow-up after the assignment is equally important. Some of the best co-workers I’ve had were those who took the time to touch base with team members after completing the assignment. They would also ask the project recipient for feedback on the results. By doing so, they developed a strong reputation for caring about the quality of their work product. The most conscientious would foster the relationship even if the internal client were not working directly with them.The best law firm litigators know that it is crucial to maintain contact with clients even when they aren’t generating revenue. It takes relatively little time to establish multiple touch- points between projects, not just during them. Moreover, it is an invaluable way to demonstrate respect and to let people know they count.
Before we buy something, we often check the description or the review on social media. Social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, allows us to find out about people as well, easily. We can discover what they are about, and quite often, their belief systems. Before meeting someone for the first time, you search for them online by visiting your company’s intranet or website or looking at LinkedIn. It’s a concept called showroom- ing and something which most of us now do naturally.
People you meet are likely to check you out as well. The next time you have a chance, play the part of the outsider and take a look at your LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter profile pages. What type of data do you see? That should give you an idea of what others in your company see about you. Are you portraying yourself in the most favorable light? This is an integral part of your personal brand.
Within an in-house legal department or operations function, it is essential to have the ability to collaborate and to work closely with and trust in others to develop the best work product. Not only are collaboration skills essential to success, but they can also help you on a very personal basis. The ability to work well together with people and bring out the best in a group helps you grow your network and develop new opportunities. We’ve seen this in research by Heidi K. Gardner, a distinguished fellow at the Center on the Legal Profession and faculty chair of the Accelerated Leadership Program at Harvard Law School. Gardner’s research on the 2008 financial crisis showed that collaboration leads to sustainably higher commercial performance.
Those who collaborated before and during the crisis fared better once the crisis was over.1
With limited time and resources, we are not always eager to ask why. That’s unfortunate. One of the best personal tools a leader can develop is the ability to ask probing questions that demonstrate interest and reveal underlying issues. It’s how we can start to build empathy. The best leaders recognize that only by facing fears and concerns head-on can they hope to build trust, engender loyalty, and collaborate effectively on solutions. Empathy may not be easy for you. It may require you to momentarily take your eyes off the data and connect on a completely different level with the people around you. Empathy and think- ing of an issue from your client’s perspective are essential parts of the design thinking movement.
This methodology is described by Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO, in his book Change by Design.2 I highly recommend reading it to stretch your empathy muscle and learn about the principles of design thinking.
Why Personal Brand Matters Today
Within law firms, lawyers generally need to promote themselves through their contacts at the firm (and sometimes to the outside world), so they are seen as valuable. In so doing, they will have a greater chance to be minted as a partner in the future. But once they become partners, they’ll need to attract clients. Law firms expect partners to develop a book of business and foster acceptance among their peers. Consequently, the top performers focus on both doing great work and developing a personal brand. In the world of in-house counsel, however, there has traditionally been less concern with branding, particularly in legal operations.
As we’ve seen, having a strong and positive personal brand and a well-respected department reputation can do several things. It can help the department get work done more efficiently. Colleagues in the company welcome the chance to work with the group and think of opportunities for them. On an individual level, it may also help professionals get the assignments and pro- motions they deserve. A concentration on personal brand and reputation is a way to ask oneself: “Am I getting the type of work I want?” and “What am I doing to leave the right impression?”
The caveat to considering one’s reputation and employing the right tactics is to ensure that the steps you take are directionally correct for the department. The expression “don’t get out in front of your skis” comes to mind. If you suspect you may be acting in a way, particularly with the outside world, that is not in keeping with what is typically done by the group, examine if there is a reason. There usually is a good one, but it still may not be the right course. Check with your department’s leader or general counsel, if needed, to make sure that you are promoting yourself to the outside world congruent with the company’s policies.
How does one get a jump start on thinking about their per- sonal brand? Here are a few steps that can help.
Get started by taking more of an active interest in the com- pany’s other functional departments. Stay curious about their work and demonstrate that curiosity.
Show that you are interested by taking the time to learn more about their business. Ask to attend their training programs, regular meetings, and other get-togethers whenever possible. This is certainly the case if you have line responsibility for covering their areas. When you explore various departments, you will be able to provide even more valuable business, legal, or operations advice. Others will notice that you are interested and that you care about what they do. It makes a difference.
As CMO at Cravath, it was important that partners recognize outstanding work from our marketing department. We constantly asked ourselves how we could improve and raise the bar. While we were doing this, we also wanted the partnership to recognize that we cared about their practices and work. My department would often attend CLE sessions and practice group meetings whenever possible. We wanted to learn about the changes in their practice areas continuously.
Do Great Work
You can be the friendliest, smartest, most connected person in the room. You can demonstrate tremendous ability to empathize with clients and colleagues. But unless you deliver a top-quality product, no amount of brand-building will help. If you lack the skills required to perform your job exceptionally, your brand-building attempts will backfire. You must deliver great work to make your brand authentic and believable.
As you build your reputation, consider what you do well and where you are weak. Think about your goals and what you need to do great work and be the best you can be. Is your aim to be the best legal operations or legal technologist on the planet?
What will get you there? Suppose your company doesn’t offer the necessary training, or you are shy about asking for it. In that case, there are dozens of universities and online courses that provide skills training in all areas.
Don’t Underestimate Kindness
The saying that you need to treat everyone at the company like they are the CEO is right. Word gets out. You need to be good to those around you, to your peers, and those who report to you, not just to the person to whom you report. Niceness is an undervalued asset, and yet it counts.
Consider Circles of Influence
People are influenced by the opinions of those who surround them. That is their circle of influence. Just as you would ask the person reporting to you to “check someone out” before a meet- ing, the same will be true of others who consider approaching you. Everyone has an opinion, not just the key people from whom you expect to get assignments or build a business.
Focus on Your External Reputation
Based on the company’s and department’s policies and ethos, your supervisor may want you to branch out and develop an external reputation. If so, that’s great. There are plentiful opportunities for in-house lawyers and operations folks to serve on panels and speak at association or law firm meetings. Just about every legal panel produced by an association or a law firm is looking for in-house representatives to serve on their dais. They want your perspective. If your company doesn’t want you to speak publicly, concentrate on making sure you have a solid LinkedIn profile. Include a professional headshot, and write a strong headline that will differentiate you from your peers.
Create Your Mini-Marketing Plan
Create a one-page marketing plan to keep on your desk or close by. Start by considering your objectives and goals. While they may change over the years, you should have a good start- ing point. Once you have your goals in mind, develop tactics that will get you there. If a goal is to be better known outside of the department, maybe article writing or joining an association are the right tactics. If you need to achieve greater visibility and respect among those influencers within your company, perhaps you need to spend more time attending their meetings.
After you have a goal in mind, figure out the tactics to get you there. What are the steps you need to take, for example, to be a leader in e-discovery? If you are not as strong in technology as you would like, one tactic might be to take a class locally to bolster your skill sets. Another goal might be that you want to increase your profile within the company. A tactic may be to meet with people in the various departments who could use your services or create an in-house CLE or other training program on what others need to know about a specific topic.
When developing your marketing plan, make sure that your stated goals are SMART ones. SMART is one of my favorite acronyms. It stands for specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timed. If your goals are not clear and specific, it’s much harder to accomplish them. The best personal plans have over- all objectives and SMART tactics.
Write Down Your Goals
You are more likely to meet your goals if you write them down. There is real science behind doing so. According to a study done by Gail Matthews at Dominican University of California, those who wrote down their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not. In fact, according to the study, you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.
Branding is a fundamental principle that anyone in business should keep in mind. The act of intentionally fostering a brand is an essential element in any professional’s career. By considering the various factors that comprise a brand, you can set yourself up for greater success in your organization and in your career.
About the Author
Deborah Farone of Farone Advisors LLC is a strategic marketing advisor to the country’s most successful professional ser- vice firms and technology companies. Her work involves strategic planning, marketing planning, and business development training. Deborah has had the unique opportunity to develop the best practices in professional services marketing by working with the most respected and demanding professionals in the world. She is the former long-time chief marketing officer of Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, where she created and led the firm’s marketing and business development operations. Prior to joining Cravath, Deborah was the chief marketing officer at Debevoise & Plimpton. Deborah is the author of the book Best Practices in Law Firm Business Development and Marketing (PLI 2019), based on more than sixty interviews she conducted in 2018 with leading law firm leaders and marketers, general counsel, and innovators in the profession. She is a highly regarded speaker at professional forums and retreats.
- Heidi K. Gardner, When Senior Managers Won’t Collaborate, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Mar. 2015).
- See Tim Brown, Change by Design (Harper Business, 2019).
(© 2021 by Connie Brenton and Susan Raridon Lambreth), www.pli.edu. Exclusively published by PLI. Reprinted with permission. Not for resale or distribution.