Off the Back: How to Cultivate Your Personal Brand - By Stephen Gustitis

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Friday, September 2nd, 2016

How do your individual attributes and professional experiences create value in the lives of other people? What qualities do you project? For what are you known? In total, these things embody your personal brand. And like it or not, you already have one. Accordingly, consider your brand as a manageable asset. Your brand is something to continuously shape with the intention of helping others benefit from having a relationship with you. It should represent the value you are consistently able to deliver to those you serve. It’s being a role model, a promise-keeper, a mentor, or a voice others can depend upon. It’s being an advocate, a representative, or a courtroom warrior. By way of contrast, cultivating your personal brand falls well short of self-promotion. Rather, branding yourself is simply establishing a sense of what you’re about and how you connect with people to add value to their lives.

I’m stating the obvious. Our client base is the lifeblood of a thriving and financially rewarding criminal defense practice. Whether retained or appointed, our clients talk about us. For good or bad they have the greatest impact upon our branding efforts. Their opinions form the basis of what we are known for. They talk among their friends. They chat on social media. Many will publish reviews on Yelp and Avvo. Hence, did they know us as someone who genuinely cared or someone who simply cashed in on another’s hard luck? Were we openly generous with our time? Did our tone regularly communicate patience rather than agitation or indifference? Did we respond promptly to questions? Did we quickly return telephone calls? Did we listen? Of course, establishing good communication with clients helps us avoid most complaints and grievances. But from a business generation standpoint, satisfying communication with clients forms the lynchpin of our success since clients are the principle source of direct referrals.

For this reason, establish a communication policy with clients at the beginning of your representation. Always honor it. Train your staff to be empathetic with clients, and maintain strict quality control. Be generous with your time. Return telephone calls pursuant to office policy. Keep your promises. These steps assure that communication with clients will satisfy their need for information and their need for understanding. It will also help shape your personal brand. These clients will likely recommend your legal services based upon their positive communication experience with your firm. And what about former clients? Why communicate with them? Not surprisingly, this communication continues to build your brand. It reinforces the impression that you make communication a priority. Less frequency is required with former clients, and communication may be in the form of newsletters, press releases, or simple thank you notes. Add value to their lives by providing them beneficial information. Former clients with whom you regularly communicate are more likely to remember you when a friend needs a criminal defense lawyer. And don’t hesitate to ask them for referrals. Demonstrate your gratitude in advance. Keeping your name fresh in their minds will continue to cultivate a quality brand.

Respond to all online internet reviews. Actively solicit these reviews from clients at the conclusion of your representation. Once a client publishes a review, respond to it online. Prospective clients read these reviews and your replies. Express your gratitude for their strong endorsement of your firm. Likewise, respond appropriately to negative reviews. This dialogue helps a prospective client develop a good impression of your firm. Furthermore, your responses demonstrate you value feedback and you make communication a priority. It also begins the trust-building process with prospective clients and gives you an edge over the competition who may not solicit, nor respond to, client reviews.

Respond to comments on your blog. And yes, you should be blogging. It’s a key component of one’s marketing and branding efforts. Blogging is communication. It reveals your personality, work ethic, knowledge, and experience. Accordingly, respond to blog comments in similar fashion as you’d respond to online reviews. Your comments help prospective clients develop a good impression of your firm and show them you make communication a priority.

Lastly, our professional colleagues have a direct impact upon our brand and our financial bottom line. Are we known for freely offering our time and expertise? Do we promptly return their telephone calls and emails, as well? Are we supportive? Work to develop a reputation among your colleagues as a promise-keeper, someone who is genuine, and someone whose voice they can depend upon. Add value to their lives by being generous with your knowledge. Regular communication with them builds trust and friendship. In other words, it cultivates a quality brand. Colleagues (including your competition) will talk highly of you when speaking with potential clients who may be interviewing for a criminal defense lawyer.

In today’s market, branding is requisite to a thriving and fi­nancially rewarding legal services enterprise. And, thankfully, not everyone is looking for a Rolex. Omega, Breitling, and Seiko all have their market niche and provide needed value to those they serve. In criminal practice the vast majority of our clients were first-time visitors who may have recently discovered us on the internet. Though we may enjoy occasional repeat business, the great bulk of our clients were, just moments ago, strangers to us. Consequently, we are continuously challenged to build credibility with them by cultivating a quality brand. Effective communication with others is the first step in this trust-building process. These efforts cost you nothing but time. More importantly, though, by managing your brand as an asset you help others benefit from having a relationship with you. I couldn’t think of a more gratifying professional legacy.