Once the freshness of starting a new legal job dissipates, some lawyers can experience a sense of malaise that may come in part from feeling like their uniqueness just doesn't matter. There may be a sense of serving as a mere "cog in the wheel" of legal machinery. While the legal work produced may at times seem rote or somewhat factory-driven, the truth of the matter is lawyers are not simply interchangeable, fungible beings. You are each unique individuals who have something distinct to offer.
One significant part of my job as a personal and professional coach is helping people focus on their key values, attributes and traits. Helping clients develop and cultivate their own unique brand can be a useful and fun way to help them get more clarity about what makes them special and how they want to present themselves to the world.
Branding yourself is one way to get more deeply connected to your particular and unique set of offerings and to outwardly convey them to the world.
In our culture, when we think of brands, we think of products and their slogans -- like Wheaties ("The Breakfast of Champions") or Bounty ("The Quicker Picker-Upper") or Visa ("It's Everywhere You Want to Be"). The idea behind these slogans is that they highlight for the outside world the very best aspects of the product represented, so people come to remember and appreciate these products for their specific strengths.
Similarly, when you work on branding yourself, you help other people know better what you do well and why they should appreciate you.
Branding also contributes to your own self-knowledge and can serve as a guidepost or motivational tool to help you stay true to the best of who you can be. Your brand is a promise you make to yourself and to those who come to know and rely on the traits your particular brand signify. Left unattended, our brands are liable to be determined by someone else, in a potentially less than flattering fashion. As aptly emphasized in book, "Make A Name for Yourself," Robin Fisher Roffer notes, "If you don't brand yourself, someone else will."
FINDING YOUR BRAND
Let's explore some of the basic ways you can begin to think of yourself as a "brand."
• Ask yourself what makes you unique.
Especially in today's economy, you will benefit from understanding what makes you distinct and special. Make a list of the ways you contribute something special at work for your superiors, your colleagues, your clients and your prospective clients. Perhaps its your energy, your focus, your creativity or your intellect. In many cases, it's the blend or unique mix of attributes or endearing quirks that makes a person remarkable in their workplace. Think of interesting combinations of traits you embody or aspire to embody, such as "quiet confidence," "sophisticated yet fun" or "gentle giant."
To make your brand most effective and comfortable, select the two to five key attributes that most authentically reflect your true self and that you can deliver most reliably and consistently. If you are unsure or can't come up with key attributes, you can ask others who know you well to tell you what they see as your key strengths. Once you have your key traits, write them down. Memorize them. Commit to consistently acting in accordance with them.
• Let your interests and preferences be your guide.
Another way to get more in touch with your "brand" is to consider your specific tastes and preferences. What's a favorite song, one you could listen to again and again on your iPod? What's your favorite animal? Movie? Fictional character? You can list these and note what characteristics you love about your selections. Frequently, what you love about your favorite things "out there" are also aspects you appreciate (and/or aspire to) in yourself.
You could also consider your favorite location(s). Maybe there is a restaurant or vacation spot that you love. Consider what it is about such a place that makes you come alive. These distinct preferences provide clues to your particular "brand." Looking outside yourself in this way can help you get in touch with parts of yourself which may be significant yet not easy to put into words.
Another similar fun exercise is to identify products that have already been branded and start to notice those to which you are most drawn. You may wish to note the taglines for products that you especially appreciate that you could adopt or modify for yourself. If you do create a tagline for yourself, keep it short and punchy so you can think of it easily and often to inspire yourself and remind you what you stand for.
Ultimately, your brand concept should factor in what you want others to think of you, while the brand also serves to fuel your motivation to move in the direction you want to go professionally.
• Consider your "packaging."
Another key to branding yourself includes attending to the many intangibles that project your style. Ask yourself what style you would like to project. Consider the variables contributing to your unique style: your look, communication style, tone of voice and attitude.
This kind of consciousness is not an attempt to become someone else, but rather an effort to become more fully and overtly yourself. It can also be a fun way to express yourself and wax a little creative -- perhaps a welcome counterbalance to the purely logical realm in which lawyers typically operate.
ALLOW IT TO EVOLVE
Don't expect your personal brand necessarily to appear to you instantaneously. Allow yourself room for it to evolve and change (but only gradually) over time. Consider working on this with a friend, loved one or a coach. The main point is to use this sort of exercise to start to make yourself distinct and a little set apart from the crowd. Doing so can lead to new and improved business relationships and ultimately to a more successful and fulfilling career.
So don't be afraid to stand out. Be brave. Be different. Be memorable. Be yourself.
Karen Shapiro is a lawyer who currently works as a certified life coach through her company, Insight & Action. Shapiro helps individuals make positive changes and manage stress in their personal and/or professional lives. She can be reached by phone at 610-642-4313 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her Web site at www.mycoachkaren.com.
This article first appeared in Young Lawyer.