Whether you’re fresh from law school or lead counsel in the Microsoft trial, the development and management of your good name is critical to your success as an attorney. Take these steps and start making a name for yourself today:
Do a Good Job. Yes, it's obvious, but if you don’t start here, there’s no sense in doing anything else. Whether it means winning in the courtroom or in the boardroom—doing your job well is obviously the single most important thing you can do to build a positive reputation. Client service is a close second. But let’s be honest. In today’s competitive marketplace, clients expect you to win. They presume you’re competent and they demand exceptional service. Today, building a reputation is about doing your job well and then going the extra mile—using your marketing muscle—to make sure that your clients and potential clients know that you’re accomplishing more than they expect. It's up to you to take care of the legal intellect. Meanwhile, let’s work on your marketing muscle by focusing on some other key reputation building activities.
Write Articles. Part of any plan to build your reputation should include getting published. First, you’ll need to find an editor. This is not as hard as it may seem. In fact, the growing number of print and Web-based publications with insatiable appetites for content means there are more opportunities than ever to find a home for your article. But you have to take the lead. Contact editors that might be interested in publishing your articles. A good place to start is with the publications you already receive, or those that are targeted toward the audience you want to reach. You could also visit American Lawyer Media for a list of publications that might be appropriate for your articles. In addition to Legal Times, American Lawyer Media publishes over 40 monthly newsletters and 23 national and regional legal magazines and newspapers.
Introduce yourself to an editor by sending an email about a story you’d like to write. Or, when a publication runs a feature that addresses your area of expertise, phone the editor directly. Volunteer to write an opposing viewpoint or provide timely information that adds a new twist to the topic for any follow-up stories that may be running.
If finding the time to write is an issue for you, there are several creative ways to share the workload. For example, you can join forces with a colleague or co-author an article with one of your clients. Collaborating on an article is a great way to deepen your working relationships. Moreover, your partner may have already established a relationship with an editor.
Another option is to hire a ghostwriter. Fees and quality vary but you can expect to pay about $1 per word for an article of moderate length and complexity. Some ghostwriters are willing to charge by the hour but usually only after they’ve worked with you. Also, you must remember to take time early on to provide your ghostwriter with clear and specific direction. After all, it’s your reputation that’s on the line.
To maximize the reach of your written work, consider using an online distribution service such as Mondaq.com. Mondaq specializes in aggregating, organizing and distributing articles written by lawyers and other professional advisors. The company claims to have 138,000 registered users and a distribution network that includes several leading proprietary databases such as Reuters, Lexis-Nexis, WestLaw, Dow Jones and Dialog. Best of all, you can publish three articles per year for free and link your article to your online listing at Martindale Hubbell. As a result, potential clients who read your article can quickly learn more about you and your firm.
Give Speeches. Speaking engagements put you in front of a captive audience with a keen interest in the topic you’re addressing. If you fear public speaking, recognize that thousands of people— even famous individuals on the high-priced speaking circuits —feel the same way. Overcome your fear of public speaking by facing it head on and developing the skills you need to be successful in front of an audience. Take a presentation skills course each year or visit your local Toastmasters on a regular basis to practice giving presentations. But don’t pressure yourself. Start by addressing a small group of friends. Ask them to honestly critique your speaking skills and heed their comments. Gradually work your way up to larger audiences and you’ll soon find a comfort zone.
And, don’t get discouraged if finding a podium seems difficult at first. The competition for speaking opportunities is usually focused on exclusive, high profile events. Many attorneys compete for speaking opportunities at bar association meetings and legal conferences geared towards the legal community. Speaking before a group of your peers provides exposure to the legal community and experience speaking before groups. But, it often doesn’t put you in front of potential clients—many of whom are not lawyers. There are hundreds of local and national industry organizations looking for speakers that are often overlooked by those seeking a podium. These venues are not only good practice arenas—they are great places to find clients.
Take Washington, DC, for example. The business of government means that trade associations are always hosting conferences and smaller group meetings here for their members. Trade association members are most likely your current or potential clients. Think about it: if you were CEO of a major corporation would you attend an ABA conference on compliance law or a trade association conference on the state of employee relations? If you were an employment lawyer, where would you most likely find your clients? Broaden your speaking horizons to include non-legal, industry focused opportunities. And remember: when you’re just starting out, any venue is a good one so long as it provides you with practical experience. To find a speaking forum that’s right for you, check with your local bar association; contact continuing legal education organizations; consult the Encyclopedia of Associations at your local library; or run Internet searches. You can begin with AssociationCentral or FedLaw’s List of Professional Associations and Organizations
Get Quoted. A study by D.F. Blumberg Associates found that companies that call you after learning about you in the media are substantially more likely to hire you than those that “cold call” you or that you call first. Needless to say, it behooves you to make connections with the media. Before making your first contact, however, remember that your interactions with the media are business transactions and nothing more. You’ve heard the warnings before: nothing is “off the record” -- and stick your talking points.
Also, do your homework. Think about what sets you apart from other attorneys in your practice area and pay close attention to headlines in publications your clients regularly read. See who gets quoted and why. Review the editorial calendars and find reporters who are dedicated to issues that pertain to your practice niche. Read what they write and get familiar with what excites them. As you take these steps, you will begin to define the kind of an expert you want to be and you’ll start to see how you can dovetail your message with the hot issues of the day.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to acquaint yourself with local reporters by taking them to lunch or talking with them on the phone. Find out who their audience is and how they select stories. Elaborate on your areas of expertise and provide leads for current stories. Ultimately, you want them to see you as a valuable resource and place your name on their list of experts in your area. If this doesn’t happen immediately, you can work with your marketing department to issue press releases on timely issues. Include quotes about the business implication of changes in laws. Avoid jargon at all costs and practice using colorful language that clearly states your point of view. Great command of plain language will make you quotable. Keep at it and they’ll come around.
Most importantly, make it easy for the media to find you. Consider listing yourself in media directories such as GuestFinder.com or the Yearbook of Experts. These searchable databases will maximize your online exposure and make it easier for the right people to find you. And, remember to return calls QUICKLY! Reporters are always on deadline; they can’t wait four or five hours to hear from you. Another source is just a phone call away.
Make the Most of Each Activity. And speaking of deadlines, today, everyone is strapped for time—especially attorneys. To build your reputation by writing articles, making speeches and getting quoted, you must find a way to optimize your efforts. The best way to conserve time is to use what we call the “Core and More” principle. Simply put, for every core reputation building activity that you perform, there should be at least 3-5 more ways for you to capitalize on that single effort. For example, suppose as a core activity you were to write an article on the antitrust implications of a business merger. Go for more by using an online distribution service like Mondaq. Distribute reprints to everyone on your mailing list. Convert that article into a speech for an industry event. Work with your marketing department to issue a press release about the speech, which will remind reporters and editors of your expertise. Or design a seminar for your clients based on the same issue. It’s a simple principle and a wonderfully efficient way to build marketing muscle.
It takes a great deal of commitment, perseverance, focus and drive to develop and manage your good name. Is it worth it? When it comes to business development—you bet. Perhaps Socrates said it best: “Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of—for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again.”
David Goehl, a former practicing attorney, is president of Sugarcrest Development Group, Inc., a D.C. firm that gives seminars and training programs throughout the country on business development and client loyalty. He can be reached at (202) 462-3188 or email@example.com. Want to see how you measure up as a rainmaker? Take the Rainmaker Reality Check today!