- Who & Why?
Category Archive for: ‘Lawyers’
I remember graduating from law school and taking the Indiana bar exam. While I was waiting for my bar results, I couldn’t imagine what I would do if I didn’t pass the exam.
What else could I do? I had gone to law school so I could practice law and “be” a lawyer. Just the thought of not being able to “be” a lawyer freaked me out and it made me sad. A general sense of depression came over me as I waited for the test results.
These days within the practice of law, or when we discuss any professional exceling at work and working “hard”, we naturally (and unfortunately) tend to discuss the high incidence of depression in the workforce.
This depression can come about for other reasons, too. I was recently discussing this very topic with a lawyer whose spouse is in the military. Every so many years they must move as her husband gets new orders. Each move guarantees a high likelihood that she, as a lawyer, won’t be able to practice in that new state because she hasn’t taken that particular state’s bar exam yet. She noted how this situation causes so many lawyers in her position to go into a deep depression. I had never stopped to consider this fact. Yet, I totally see how that situation can cause depression.
Why does this sadness and/or depression happen to professionals regarding their careers?
I think this happens because we are too tied to our identity as a particular professional and career. We don’t identify ourselves as people first, rather we identify as our professions first.
For instance, when I was a securities lawyer in Washington, DC, whenever anyone met me and asked me about myself, I would automatically launch into a discussion of my legal career. Often, my response would start with, “I’m a lawyer”.
It wasn’t until the year I stopped practicing that I realized this costly misalignment in my thoughts. I remember the day so vividly. I was bemoaning to my sister how I was struggling with not practicing law, even though I had chosen to stop practicing and I felt it was right deep down in my gut. I remember declaring to my sister, “But if I’m not a lawyer, then who am I?”
This inquiry stopped my sister dead in her tracks. With a very shocked and sad expression she commented, “You are a human first and then a lawyer”.
What a wake-up call. That was the moment I really stopped and took inventory of who I really was and what I was about in this world. It took several years before I had real clarity.
I then realized that identifying so much with my career and/or profession had left me with a lack of my own identity as a human. Not a pretty or effective brand.
As such, it led to a sense of sadness and hollowness when I stripped myself of my title as a lawyer- an even worse brand.
What does this mean for you? Stop and consider:
- How often do you identify with your career, profession and job to the detriment of who you are as a person? Why?
- Does this identification help you be happy and balanced?
- How does this identification impact your work product and your brand?
- What would it be like for you to stop identifying with your career, profession and job?
- What’s one action step you can take now to have more self-awareness around who you “are” and what you “do”?
If this material is helpful, please consider sharing it.
I would love to hear your feedback.
In the brand development world, the goal is to create a brand culture that resonates the business brand well with clients and your audience. This goal involves the most important attribute of any business- its’ employees.
To that end, I’m always working with employees to develop a sound individual brand- one that vibes with, and lends itself well to, the brand culture that will make the business succeed emotionally. There are so many factors we address with employees because there are so many contributing factors to employees “owning” their best brand and being happy at work.
One factor that doesn’t get much airtime is the actually physical office setting and structure/layout of the office. I think people assume two things: 1) who cares? sit in your office or in a cubicle- just get the work done; or 2) Google had it right- everyone in all offices are better off sitting in an open-office format because Google does it.
A lawyer client of mine was commenting last week about how her office is switching formats in their actual office layout- instead of high cubicles, they will now have an open-office (bull-pen) style format. She was really worried about morale and the spread of gossip and a deteriorating brand for her firm.
Was she right? I think so.
Some business cultures (and types of businesses/professions, dare I say?) do not lend themselves well to certain business processes. I would agree with my client; law firms are not the best atmospheres to introduce open-office formats. A 2013 survey found that such offices often lead to distractions that decreased performance. In the world of law firms, I define “distractions” as gossip and posturing for power among employees.
In addition, in law firms you need privacy for certain transactions and the type of work we do as lawyers involving client confidentiality. The counter-argument is that staff in open-office layouts are easier to “watch” and monitor. Indeed- and this in an of itself could lead to low morale and a disjointed brand culture. After all, unless an employee has given you reason to not trust them, why don’t you trust them to not watch them all day long?
What does this mean for you? Stop and consider:
- What type of brand culture and environment do you work in?
- Does the physical layout of your offices lend itself to a healthy brand culture? Why or why not?
- What type of business do you work in? If it is something like the practice of law, consider the personalities and type of work that is done, then create the physical atmosphere.
When I graduated from law school in 1997, jobs were plenty. I was so very fortunate, as were all my classmates. Just about the only reason we had for not getting a job was if we failed the bar exam.
Looking back, I realize how blessed we were. I really didn’t have much anxiety around finding a job. If anything, my anxiety was more about whether I would find a job that I really wanted.
Fast forward 19 years. I have so much respect for recent law school graduates. They no longer have the luxury that we did when we graduated. Nothing is guaranteed once they graduate.
This may sound like a bad thing, however I see it differently. I think graduates these days are much more resourceful and scrappy. They are forced to figure out their brands and then market themselves in a way we never had to do.
This brings me to the dilemma I see so many law firms facing today. The majority of those who graduated law school a few years before me as well as those who graduated with me are mid-level partners in their firms. They are not the oldest in the partnership ranks yet.
As a result of when we graduated and our fantastic economic circumstances, many of these partners always had work- it was either always generated by more senior partners and given to them or it was easy for them to get work otherwise.
The problem I see is often, as a result, these partners are not able (or willing?) to generate their own business because they have always had business given to them. So their brand is practically non-existent and their marketing efforts, rusty at best. This may sound like a generalization and it is. This is based on my many years of experience working with law firms on branding. There are obviously exceptions everywhere.
Here are their top 3 Marketing Mistakes:
- They assume the business and work will always flow because it has always worked out for them in the past. Don’t get me wrong. I love optimism, however it has its limits. Because of this mentality these partners aren’t as open as they can be to seeing their branding and marketing needs differently. This hurts the entire firm.
- They don’t participate in marketing and branding work like others in the firm do. I see this regularly each time I go into a law firm to train the attorneys on branding and marketing. The room is filled with: a) 65 year old and above attorneys/partners and b) 27-35 year old attorneys/associates. They are all eager to learn because they know it matters. No where to be found are the mid-level partners ranging in age between 40 to 55 years old or so. This hurts the entire firm.
- They don’t choose to see marketing and business development activities creatively. I find when this level of partner does market their practice, it is in very traditional ways such as advertisements, taking a new firm website picture or speaking at a conference. Rarely do they stop and really focus on working on their own internal projection to possible clientele (i.e., their brand) nor how to collaborate with other attorneys. This hurts the entire firm.
The end result of all this is the following: one day within the next ten years, these very same lawyers are going to be the most senior attorneys at their firms as the older partners retire. As such, the older partner are no longer going to be around to feed them work. The younger lawyers will have already figured it out and have moved on without these partners. This hurts the entire firm because of the inequity of the situation.
What does this mean for you? If you are a mid-level lawyer and this description fits you, please consider:
- Choosing to see your marketing and branding efforts in a new light: What can you be doing differently to develop business?
- Working on yourself and your own brand instead of focusing on others.
- Hiring a consultant and/or coach to help you get up to speed. Most often in these situations, the timeline is accelerated and it will creep up on you before you know it.
As the statistic goes, 78% of everything we buy is based on how we “feel” about it (product or service) and NOT the content. When I think back to any of my current purchases (for products or services), I’ve bought over 90% of them because I “liked” them.
Now you may think, who buys toothpaste outside necessity of content? Everyone. Otherwise, there would only be one brand of toothpaste instead of so many of them all competing for your dollars.
Same thing for professional service providers. There are so many professionals doing the same thing out there. The name of the game isn’t how great you are at your job (you’ll have to prove that to me after I hire you), but whether you “move me” to want to hire you. That’s actually good news and it’s all based on your individual brand- as a human being.
I remember the days when I practiced law. Towards the end of my 14-year career when I no longer wanted to practice, I was an entirely different brand. I don’t think I could have moved anyone to want to hire me, plain and simple. How could I- -I didn’t want to be a lawyer!
So here are three ways to move me to buy your brand as a professional service provider:
1. Be likeable– You can’t count on your intellect and ability to do the work to get you clients and a magnificent brand. Would I want to be your friend? Would you want to be your own friend? Stop and think, how like-able are you?
2. Create emotional resonance with me– I remember when I practiced in Washington DC, the common small talk question was, “what do you do?” I was a victim of asking that question, too. It was just awful and left the conversation very dry and cold. Now it seems people have stopped asking that question. However, we still talk too much about our work. Stop telling me how great you are at what you do for a living. Start telling me about yourself as a human and then I’ll emotionally connect. From there, I’ll buy anything from you.
3. Find your happiness– It’s becoming more common to have dialogue on being happy these days. But do you really own it? I know it is hard. I consciously practice being happy each day. Some days it is really hard for me to find that happiness for myself. So I get mad at myself, then sad and then come back around to give it another go. If you can’t be happy, then you can’t emotionally move me with your brand. Why? Because happiness is the only emotion that sells. It’s contagious and leaves your brand unrivaled.
Ever wonder how some people just have greater and better capacity for life than others? I’m not talking just in business, but in what seems all aspects of their life. Ever wonder why the entrepreuner can really wear all the hats of CEO and Chief Bathroom Cleaner, too?
In my time, I’ve learned that being flexible and open to new ideas is one of the most important attributes in my life. The only attribute higher for me personally is integrity.
Being an immigrant has always helped me be flexible, nimble and see the world of options before me. That’s just how we grew up. We moved to the US with two suitcases thinking we were just here on vacation. We never ended up leaving, which was fantastic. When I stop and think about how much my parents had to tolerate change and be flexible and creative, I’m astounded.
I lost some of my willingness to try new things and flexibility to adapt when I was knee deep into the practice of law. I’m not quiet sure what it was. Maybe it was because my days were very predictable and the law was founded in precedence. I really didn’t think anyone cared for me to be creative, flexible and take on new learnings beyond my substantive practice. Being a lawyer was hard enough, it seemed.
But somewhere deep inside me, I was yearning to learn new things, adapt and try on new roles and experiences in life that may have made me uncomfortable, but would have been fun and creative. I was used to discomfort and sitting in the unknown. In a way, I thrive on novelty and unchartered territory, but I also have compassion for how others may not share my views.
Fast forward all these years to now, where I run this personal branding company. What I ask of my clients all day long is for them to sit in discomfort, put on a creative hat and try to learn from new experiences and apply their lessons learned to new situations. In particular, I want them to apply their lessons to new situations that may not always be predictable and comfortable.
This is the hallmark of a dynamic and creative personal brand. People will always stand up and notice you and your brand if you are agile, fluid and creative. People welcome your self-confidence to try on something new.
In the workplace this notion is referred to as “learning agility”. In fact, The Korn Ferry Institute says learning agility is a leading predictor of talent and leadership success for people. Korn Ferry also finds that learning agility is rare, with only 15% of the workforce being highly learning agile.
John Delaney, Dean of the school of business at University of Pittsburgh, said it best in a Huffington Post article about this very subject. Professor Delaney said, “Learning agility is what happens when a lawyer is asked to maintain a robust social media presence or a financial professional is tapped to open a global office even with limited knowledge of the new country’s economy or culture, and yet they overcome their lack of experience and discomfort and find a way to simply make it work. Those who are learning agile know what to do when they don’t know what to do. They know the questions to ask, the people to work with to find the answers they need and they are comfortable being uncomfortable.”
So what does this mean for you? Stop and ask yourself:
– How willing and self-confident are you to take that next step at work even when you not sure what to do? How about in your personal life?
– How often do you find yourself in uncomfortable situations where you are willing to tough it out in order to find a solution?
– How creative do you allow yourself and your brand be in order to grow as a human and a leader?