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May 19, 2008

Why Every Solo Practitioner Needs to Find Her Brand - Guest Blogger - James Chartrand

Through Twitter I was led to (in my humble opinion), a brilliant Canadian writer named James Chartrand who co-authors the blog Men with Pens and is a contributing author to the highly acclaimed Copyblogger.

I referenced the first article I ever read by James called, "Are You Talking To My Generation?" It was when I read this article, "Are You In Personal Branding Prison?" that I contacted James and asked him to guest post here because lawyers are really just starting to understand they have to break free from their monochromatic and dull marketing world and really differentiate themselves.  But the majority simply don't know how and they are afraid of what they perceive are limiting and stringent advertising rules.

But I didn't want to feature a legal copywriter.  I wanted someone who has a lay person's perspective of lawyers, who understands running a solo practice and selling legal services does not remove lawyers from the rigors of creative marketing. I wanted someone who would work hard to educate the lawyer that it is really OK to speak 'with' your targeted audience in order to bring in clients and grow your practice.

I'm going to ask you a favor, however.  If you are intrigued by what James has to say, like his unique and blunt style, let him know in the comments section.  James is excellent at continuing conversation with readers who engage him.  I'd like us all to convince him to continue his contributions here....maybe even get him to teach the art of writing and branding at Solo Practice University :-).

Guest Blogger - James Chartrand

You're a lawyer. Fantastic. You've studied hard and long, passed rigorous bar exams and you've put in the time. Now you're on your own with your practice. It's time to gain some clientele.

So what's your brand?

Wait… You do have a brand, don't you? You do have an image you want to convey to your clients and your prospective clients, right?

Branding Yourself

Your brand is your message, the image you convey that makes you recognizable. Most likely, the brand you've chosen is a personal one. You want people to see you as educated, smart, savvy and expert – someone who can sway judge and jury with your brilliant research and powers of persuasion.

Your brand probably includes a feeling of expertise, a sense of trust and an image of authority. You're a great lawyer.

Enough said. Your brain is a valuable asset and your undeniable arguments and convincing speeches makes you the perfect choice.

Why Lawyers Need Branding

You've established your brand, that image of complete confidence and assurance of the win. Sounds good.

Now take a look at the brand that all the other lawyers assume. Their marketing message (and yes, lawyers have marketing messages) probably sounds identical to yours.

It's no wonder that people say, "I need a lawyer." A lawyer. Anyone will do, because lawyers are all the same. You rarely hear people say, "I need that lawyer on Jones Street. You know the one."

You may think that you're different from other lawyers, and you are, certainly. You have strengths, weaknesses, attitude and talents. But to everyone else, you're just a lawyer barking the same message that all the other lawyers do.

In fact, if you didn't have different colored hair, eyes or skin tone, you'd probably look the same, too.

You have nothing special to offer.

You have no business.

You have no brand.

Breaking Tradition with Business

Times are changing, and the way of working in the world is changing for every single man and woman across all industries and fields of practice. No matter what type of professional you are, you have competition. Stiff competition.

A law firm is no different from any other professional service. Plumbers, gardeners, writers, advertisers… These professionals all run a business. Their business requires marketing, promotion, sales message and branding.

So does yours. You're in this line of work to make money and be successful. You want to attract clients. You want to sell your services and be hired for your talents and skills. Those desires and elements are all part of business, not practice.

Unless you have the reputation of Apple and Macintosh on your side, you need to stand out. Tossing up a sign that reads "Jones, Jones, Jones & Smith" doesn't encourage anyone to hire you. A business card that reads, "Attorney at Law," isn't compelling.

Branding That Sells

Lawyers have a particular challenge in branding. Anyone – anyone at all – is their potential customer. For example, I could be your next client.

Why should I choose you? Why not her? Or him? Or that person over there? Lawyers all look the same to me, and they all portray the same message and image. There's nothing at all to differentiate one lawyer from the next (except perhaps the specific field of law), and there's nothing to help me take a decision of who to hire.

Even worse, the media plays up lawyers negatively, stereotyping them as money-hungry sharks that use questionable tactics to get the ruling. That means lawyers have to fight twice as hard to shake up common perception.

A good brand makes the difference, though. Think on this:

I'm in my 30s. I'm a father of two. I'm middle income level and do okay, but I worry about money. I believe in honesty, integrity and transparency. I believe in fighting for the underdog. Hell, I am the underdog.

I value hard work and effort to achieve goals. I respect education, but I also know that a piece of paper doesn't mean much and doesn't represent a person's self-worth. I believe that some people are better than others for a job.

I like straight talk. I don't like to feel stupid and I don't like being told what to do. I like a fair win – but of course, I like winning. I appreciate people who can admit they don't know it all and who acknowledge their mistakes.

Now, how are you going to convince me to hire you? What does your brand – your image, what you stand for – tell me that makes me want to work with you?

A good brand can help draw your potential clients – people just like me, or like her, or like him – to your business.

And make no mistake, you have a business, not a practice. Call it what you want if it makes you feel better, but at the end of the day, it's a business just like mine, with billable hours, clients, service and invoices to pay.

Break tradition. Start putting value into branding and market your business properly. Stop giving the same impression as every other lawyer out there – bland, boring and all the same.

Start by asking yourself why someone should hire you over the next person. Now ask yourself this question: What are you doing about it?

If you want to learn more on how to have a better business, visit James' blog, Men with Pens. You'll learn branding techniques, customer service tips and marketing advice on gaining competitive advantages. Better yet, get the RSS feed for Men with Pens right here.

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Comments

Kansas Business Attorney

James: keeping it real is always refreshing. As attorneys, we hear best when you put it straight (ie, "you have a business, not a practice"), and even better -- we're reminded that clients, too, like straight talk. To use your line: who do you want to hire: the sophist or the one who gives it to you straight? Hope you make your way here again!

Grant D Griffiths

Without a brand, neither you nor your potential clients know what you are about. And one of the best tools to use to establish a brand is a well thought out, well designed, maintained and updated blog with relevant content. Great post James.

Sherry J.

James, I'm a newly graduated 3L and fully expect to open my own practice after passing the bar. One thing law school fell short on is business and marketing and technology.

Fortunately, I'm a nontrad which means I came into law school with my eyes wide open and a background in sales. But that doesn't change the reality lawyers don't get it.

I hope you will stick around 1) So lawyer by lawyer we can improve our public perception and 2) You can teach us how to get rid of the 'image.' I'm a human being and want to be portrayed as such.

Thanks for this post.

Marcus Franklin

I've had my solo practice now for 6 months (website coming soon!) and I think your article "Are You Speaking To My Generation" is so important in this business.

The disconnect between -30 and +30 when it comes to communication is getting greater.

Thankfully I'm under 30 and deal with under 30 primarily or most lawyers might as well be talking Greek to Lilliputians.

You have to keep it real, relatable, honest and about the client.

James Chartrand - Men with Pens

@ Marcus - keep it real, relevant, honest, about the client - and noticeable. That's key these days, whether your audience is over or under 30.

(But yes, there's a completely different language at play!)

@ Sherry - That's one of the biggest obstacles in professional practice. You learn your skill well, but then you're shoved in a world without those vital backup skills.

You can't run until you walk. But once you get walking down, watch out ;)

@ Grant - The benefits of a blog are phenomenal and make a serious impact on many businesses across all industries. I see results happen time and again when clients embrace blogging - properly, mind you. There's a right and wrong way to go about it.

@ Kansas - Well, let's face it; with the crazy world we have today, no one has time to hear anything BUT straight talk. And yet, people try so hard not to ruffle feathers and want to be positive that they forget you can be direct and still be diplomatic.

I'm glad I can manage both :)

I did receive an invitation to post here again, and I think that you'll see my name around more often. It's my pleasure - and it's a good feeling to be able to help people find their "A-HA!" moment.

3L

We can learn alot from you. I know I want to open my own practice and I know I can do it. I just haven't figured out how to separate myself from the pack.

I'm so paranoid about word choice, advertising rules and the ABA monitoring our image, maybe you can show us how to comply with the rules while still making the connection with paying clients.

I clicked over to Copyblogger and checked out your other articles. Great. Thanks.

Tei

So very true. One of my dearest friends just passed the California bar, and she's ALREADY building a brand (she is a little bit of a freak, but she is a very smart freak, and she knows from financially lucrative). And get this - she's 24 years old, she just graduated law school, and before she even got the results from her bar back, people were asking her to speak on her specialization. Why? Because that was her brand. She's the one who knows about that stuff. Everyone else is just a lawyer, but she's the expert. At 24. It's amazing.

Yay, James, and guest posts.

Karen Swim

James, excellent advice. I have worked with a few in the legal profession who understood branding and marketing. Sadly they were the minority. Your post provides great actionable information that will I'm sure will provide great value to this audience.

New York CLE

This is a great post on the new wave of legal marketing. Branding is something that everyone needs to think long and hard about. No more is it sit back and let the business come, guess what, it's not ever coming. Keep it up James.

Laurie Stafinski

James, I enjoyed your article and the insight that you provided. You are right about the importance of brand - in every profession and industry. We just released a report titled, Fees and Pricing Benchmark Report: Law Firms & Legal Services Industry 2008, where we touched upon the importance of branding and the impact it has on a firm's bottom line. We found that more than one-third (36%) of brand leaders earned a profit of 30% or greater, compared to just 15% of lesser-known firms. Furthermore, brand leaders are more likely to have seen their annual revenue grow in the past two years: 93% of brand leaders grew versus 75% of lesser-known firms. This goes to show you the importance of brand.

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