When we start out as lawyers, we’re so afraid of being caught unprepared that we try to memorize every fact, every detail, and every statute. It seems like the smart thing to do. After all, doesn’t every job posting require “attention to detail”? The problem is that details become our security blanket. When a partner, a judge, or a potential client asks a question, we regurgitate the facts we memorized the night before and rattle off code sections—surely, our knowledge will impress our audience.
Not so fast. It’s more likely that you’re mired in the details, not detail-oriented. The inability to discern what’s important and focus only on the essential details signals low-quality legal work to your audience, and, if repeated it becomes a character flaw and a part of your professional reputation.
To craft a positive personal brand rather than stumble into a flawed professional reputation, you must hone your ability to identify which details matter and quickly tell a story that sells. With every opportunity, you must practice being clear, concise, and memorable.
3 Questions that Define Your Reputation
As a young lawyer, there are three questions that partners, judges, colleagues, and clients are always asking about you. These three questions from the basis of your reputation and brand:
- Are you trustworthy and reliable?
- Can you do the work?
- Can you bring in business?
Clear, concise, and memorable messaging will lead those people to answer affirmatively. Meandering, over-stuffed messaging does the opposite. Knowing what matters and confidently focusing on it, makes it an easy “yes.”
What Is Your Message?
Many young lawyers think that formal interactions and highly edited assignments are the message. But that’s wrong. Your “message” includes anything that comes out of your mouth or your mind that represents you. It’s your story. It can be your elevator pitch, website profile, a blog post, legal briefs, oral arguments, emails to your employer or clients, and even social media posts. Every interaction you have is an opportunity to build your personal brand. At first, this may seem scary, but think of it this way: You have numerous opportunities every day to practice delivering a clear, concise, memorable message. If you ramble or stumble on one, another opportunity will come along shortly.
Try These Three Tricks
We get it. Telling you “not to overthink it” or offering the cliché advice that “less is more” is unlikely to help you achieve your goal. Instead, try this:
- Make It a Commercial: Think of a pithy soundbite that delivers the essence of your message with just enough detail to keep your audience interested for 30 seconds. If you hook them for 30 seconds, they’ll give you five more minutes to layer and explain.
- Think in Tweets: Think of the 280-character summary you might write to get someone to click on the link you’re sharing.
- Treat Thoughts Like Accessories: According to the elegant Coco Chanel, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off,” so too should you consider simplifying before communicating.
Following this advice will help you hone your message and your personal brand. Try these tricks when think about what you will say when you enter a partner’s office, describe your case to a judge, or leave a voicemail for a client. Consider what your audience will find most intriguing and relevant. Start there. If you’re slow to make your point because you’re more concerned with sharing extraneous details that might make you sound smarter, you’ll lose attention and appear directionless.
Practice Focused Writing
You can develop your personal and professional brand through your writing—particularly emails. As a young lawyer, your email communication will form the primary basis of your reputation, and you’ll get to practice countless times per day. At first, it’s hard to see what you should cut to make your emails clear, concise, and memorable, but it gets easier. A sophisticated but low-cost editing tool like WordRake can help you every day, with every email, with just one click. It ripples through your emails, marking them up in the familiar track-changes style, showing you how you can get to the point. The more you use it, the more you’ll train yourself to edit every message. You’ll even leave better voicemails! Practicing clear, concise, and compelling email communication is a great way to develop a solid reputation as a bright, wise lawyer with an instinct for what matters.
A version of this article appeared in The Young Lawyer magazine published quarterly by the ABA Young Lawyers Division. Nicole and Ivy presented “Say It Clearly: Communication Strategies to Help Grow Your Personal Brand and Professional Career as a Young Lawyer” on October 8, 2020 for the 2020 Virtual Fall Conference.
About the Authors
Ivy B. Grey is the Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for WordRake. Before joining the team, she practiced bankruptcy law for ten years. In 2018, Ivy was recognized as a Fastcase 50 Honoree and included in the Women of Legal Tech list by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. Follow Ivy on Twitter @IvyBGrey or connect with her on LinkedIn.
Nicole Abboud-Shayan is the Business Development Associate for WordRake. Prior to joining the team, Nicole practiced law for several years and then launched her own media and marketing company. Follow Nicole on Twitter @nicoleabboud or connect with her on LinkedIn.