This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, LawSikho.

What is your personal brand?

I know, maybe you just work somewhere. Maybe you are still a student. Maybe you are an HR manager, government officer, consultant or a lawyer. You may say that I am an entrepreneur and CEO, so I have a personal brand and you don’t have one.

But believe me, you have a personal brand, like it or not. This personal brand may be influenced by where you work, how you dress, how you react to people and situations, any peculiar mannerisms, your level of effectiveness, whether you get angry or upset easily, how much you have helped people or not.

But there is a conversation out there about you amongst the people who personally know you, or maybe even those who have only heard of you.

And what are people saying about you when you are not around? What do people say about you when they gossip about you? When do they think they should reach out to you for help? The sum of all those conversations is your personal brand.

Why bother with the personal brand in the first place?

Your personal brand can be either one of your best assets, or your biggest liability, depending on how you shape it and whether you pay adequate attention to it.

Let’s take the example of Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway. Recently, an in-depth Fortune magazine article concluded that Berkshire Hathaway, an organization with access to a massive amount of capital and control of a massive business empire, so much so that it earns over 100 million USD every day, has it’s biggest asset in the personal brand of Warren Buffett.

So much so that while Berkshire has failed to post a good return in last one decade, performing poorly compared to S&P 500, investors do not pull out money from Berkshire. Because, Buffet is the Oracle of Omaha. He will do the best in the long term, and that is the faith.

If there was any other company with so much concentration of power and capital, regulators would be up in arms. Politicians in USA would have declared war, just like a Democrat presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is now demanding that big tech companies should be broken up. No such thing for Berkshire, because Buffet is the benevolent grandpa of capitalism. He does no wrong! Suggesting an action against him is likely to cause a drop in any candidates political fortune.

When Goldman Sachs was facing collapse and cash crunch after the massive economic downturn and banking crisis in 2008, they could take money from any number of PE investors. They do that now. But at the height of crisis, they went to Buffett, and paid more than 2 times higher interest rate to access capital to keep the investment banking giant afloat. The fact that Buffett had put in money was a signal that Goldman has a fundamentally good business. They had blessings of Buffet, and must be therefore bankable and trustworthy.

Buffet did not invest in any tech stocks for ages. He did not invest in companies like Google, Facebook or Uber. He invested in Apple too late and made modest losses on that stock too. But that did not make his followers, shareholders or fans question his wisdom. It was seen as an upholding of true, long lasting values of investment, Buffet style.

That’s the true power of a personal brand.

What will happen when Buffet, who is almost 90, is no more? Will regulators continue to trust it? Will investors continue to pour in money? Will Berkshire have to be more aggressive about deal making?

I can give you many examples of personal brands. Steve Jobs had built such a brand too. But even closer to home, isn’t Ram Jethmalani or Mukul Rohatgi all about powerful brands? In fact, the entire senior advocate concept is a sort of branding exercise.

When lawyers get into politics and get a lot of press as a corollary, it has been seen that their fees go up. It is not that they have suddenly become better lawyers, or that they argue or research differently after political success. However, the brand reaches a very different dimension.

Some lawyers, interestingly, have contributed to building a powerful brand by rejecting the senior’s gown too! Indira Jaising is the prime example of this. People respect her more today for saying that senior counsel system is unfair and she got a lot of press on this when she announced her rejection.

Understanding the branding phenomenon is key to success as a lawyer. This is especially true in the case of the legal profession because this is a place where most people, even lawyers, can rarely judge the quality of a lawyer or even an argument very objectively. So people go by brands! More powerful a brand, more people and even judges tend to accept what those lawyers are saying, and even ready to give them more time to argue, and priority in hearing.

There is no difference when it comes to law firms. A lot of times large companies hire only big law firms as CYA (this term stands of Cover Your Ass, in case you didn’t know). Let me give you an example.

When Ramalinga Raju was about to be exposed for a potential scam in a company called Maytas, which he had setup for construction and infrastructure business, his public defence was that Luthra and Luthra has done a due diligence into Maytas and found no wrongdoing. Basically, he was using the brand of a big law firm to say that Maytas was clean. It is a different thing that Luthra & Luthra turned back and denied that they had done such a due diligence. Raju eventually got exposed for a bigger scam and went to jail. But how he used the name of Luthra & Luthra to buttress his claim that Maytas was clean shows exactly how brands of a law firm can be so powerful.

Let’s say I am the MD of a large corporation. There is a massive loss coming up due to a contractual breach. Now let’s say the contract was drafted by a very small law firm in Mumbai, which did a fantastic job. But once the contract is breached, the MD or the legal team is bound the face questions from the board or shareholders as to why such a big contract was not given to a big law firm to be drafted. Why was it given to a small firm? What were you thinking?

Let’s say the board wants us to sue XYZ corporation. And the legal department is of the opinion that we will lose the case. Instead of saying it ourselves, we may go to a CAM or AZB to get the same thing in the form of an opinion. Then the board will either find it hard to go and sue, or they will produce another memo from an international law firm, a bigger brand, to say that it is a good idea to sue!

So that’s how brands work. It is the same for personal brands of law firm lawyers.

So how can you build your personal brand?

This is the next important question if you have understood that building a powerful personal brand is very important for your success as a lawyer, whether within an organization where you work, or the peer group of lawyers in a certain court, a certain industry from which you draw many clients, or generally in your environment.

Lawyers who invest in their personal brand tend to be far more successful than those who are competent but fail to invest in their brand.

Remember that brand is not equivalent to marketing or selling yourself. Marketing is you going out and doing things that get you clients. But building a brand causes a client to look for you even though you have never had any contact with them.

What are the things you do to build your brand? Have you ever thought that you have a personal brand and that you need to enhance it? How can you discover what is the state of your personal brand, inside your organization, in the various communities which you are part of, and amongst your potential clients? What are the things you could do in the next few months to enhance your personal brand?

I want you to write back to me and share what you have been upto with respect to your personal brand, or what you plan on doing in the coming months.  I need to know you are truly interested in this after all.

Here is what I am planning to do at LawSikho to enhance our brand in the next 3 months.

  • Publish a series of practical guide books from LawSikho with a leading international law publisher.
  • Writing ebooks that make a great impact on law students so that they can experience the quality of our insights and work. We wrote one for law students, and then the next one in works is for HR managers, and we will then work on one for practicing lawyers. Each book must provide outstanding value.
  • Run iPleaders blog and let our students publish the wonderful articles they are writing as a part of course work in the blog.
  • Make a lot of amazing videos available on our YouTube channel free of cost for people to watch and learn. I have personally given over 200 hours setting up and interviewing other lawyers for content for our YouTube channel.
  • Give away a lot of premium content free of cost to our target groups – in order for them to realize that our content is not run-of-the-mill like our competitors. Stay tuned to these mails to get more.
  • Visiting colleges and doing lectures on topics that are close to my heart, but rejecting invites that do not give me enough time, freedom or space to speak.
  • Share my day-to-day travails as well as joy on Instagram.
  • Training a person in-house to do some kick ass social media campaigns

I have also made certain rules for myself to protect my brand.
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  • If I find any of our courses to be sub par, I shut them down until they are improved. I was not happy with the quality of our mooting course, so I did the same. Despite a lot of demand, and people ready to pay for it right now, I refuse to sell it until it will be of satisfactory quality. I cannot let my brand get affected even by one inferior product.
  • Never associate with companies, brands or organizations we do not trust or respect. Many times we have been offered a lot of money to associate with untrustworthy brands, or by unscrupulous universities. We don’t do such things. Our brand must be protected.
  • I normally do not attend legal events unless I am invited as a speaker, and given enough time to speak. I can attend only a few, so I would better make them count and help my personal as well as organizational brand. Recently an organization invited me to join a panel. They expected me to travel for 3 hours to be on a panel where I would get to speak for 10 minutes. Does not work! I always say no to such invites.
  • I do not gossip. I do not listen to gossip. I have learnt the hard way that harms my brand!

There is a lot more I want to tell you about this subject. So wait for an action plan I am going to share with you tomorrow. But for today, take 5 minutes, think about what all you could do to enhance your personal brand and share with me by hitting reply to this mail. I will eagerly wait to hear from you.

Catch you later.

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