When you’re a junior lawyer at a big law firm, you don’t have to worry about selling yourself to clients. No one expects a junior lawyer to bring in new clients. You don’t actually get much “client time”, if any at all. As a junior, your job is to do good work for the senior lawyers, to make them look smart, and to project a positive image of the firm at court and in public. And the reality is that any client a junior lawyer might be able to bring in would not be of economic interest to the firm in any event.
As a junior lawyer, I was lucky enough to have brought in few good clients. But it was not because of how I sold myself. There may not be many perks to being the youngest member of a family where 5 of the 7 of us are lawyers (including my dad!). But a professional network spanning North America, and the referrals coming from that network, was definitely one of them.
When I went out on my own and founded my own law firm, selling myself was easy. It was natural. I was young. Bilingual. Well-educated (for whatever an Honors degree in philosophy is worth ;). I was energetic. I was unabashedly outgoing. And I was pumped. They say that working hard for someone else is stress. Working hard for yourself is passion. I couldn’t agree more. And I was passionate.
When I started on my own, there wasn’t a person on earth who was not a prospective client. I knew I could take any client I wanted. No client too big. No client too small. No politics. No hierarchy. Just my own discretion. And I trusted my discretion more then anyone else’s. The classic example I always give: I once went apple picking at an orchard on a Sunday afternoon. I met the owners, and sent them some beautiful photos I took while there. Two weeks later, they had a legal issue and gave me a call.
That being said, I wasn’t really selling myself as a lawyer. Selling yourself as a lawyer is like a sniper boasting about how effectively they can kill people from a distance. I had difficulty selling myself on the unfortunate nature of our practice. By the time someone comes to a lawyer, they are in dire straits. They’re stressed. They’re angry. I couldn’t promise them the answers to their problems. In a way, I was never selling myself as a lawyer. I was selling myself as a person. An honest, trustworthy, hardworking person. And I was good at it precisely because I was honest. I knew what I knew, and I never pretended to know what I didn’t.
Over the years, however, I got tired. Tired of the practice. And tired of what I was ultimately selling. At a given point, I pretty much stopped telling people what I did. But it didn’t really matter. A decent lawyer who is open for business is like a decent doctor who is taking on new patients. Word of mouth more than compensated for my diminished passion to pursue prospective clients. That said, it’s an indication of something when someone is no longer interested in selling their profession. And until recently, I had totally forgotten what it was like to sell myself.
People hear the words “sell yourself”, and automatically think it’s a cheap, tawdry, or salacious term. People think it’s phoney to “sell something”. Used-car salesman phoney. Fake-smiles-and-laughs phoney. Fake-flattery phoney. But the reality is that we are all, always, without exception, selling something. It just depends on what that something is. We are selling ourselves at a job interview. We are selling a breakfast to a child. A smile to a stranger. An evening of intimacy to a spouse 🙂 We are always selling something. The only time we should feel ashamed of selling something is when we don’t actually believe in what are are selling.
When I took down my shingle and framed it as the memento it represents for that decade of my life, I realized the significance of what it meant to say that I was rusty at selling myself. And in a way, it is more complicated than that. I am not just rusty. I am conflicted. Not conflicted about the fact that I have to sell myself. Conflicted about what it is that I am selling.
As a lawyer, I always had the underlying sense of self-satisfaction that I was “important”. I was doing something “important”. Socially and intellectually “important”. Lawyers have a “professional monopoly” of sorts. You need a license to practice as a lawyer. But marketing? Branding? Advertising? “Social media”? What’s that worth? It’s not the world’s “oldest profession” (yes, there’s a prostitution joke in here!). And when it comes to marketing, “anyone can do that”… That bar of entry is so low. Or so they say.
When I was making the transition from law to social media marketing, so many people would confidently assert “Pffft… Marketers are a dime a dozen. There are 50 others just like you. What are you going to do to distinguish yourself from the others?”.
Which got me thinking… How is that any different than law? There are over 20,000 lawyers in Quebec… What separates one from the others? What was it that separated me from the other 19,999 lawyers in our province? From law to marketing, it’s the same thing. What makes one lawyer or agency better than the other is passion, dedication, and the sincere desire and ability to understand their client’s business, their client’s identity. From law to marketing, it’s the same intuitu personae relationship. After all, life itself is an intuitu personae journey.
And so my rehabilitation has begun. To re-learn to sell myself, and to sell something that I genuinely love and value. To take pride in my creativity, energy, and passion. And to abandon the fabricated pride that comes with being a member of the oldest profession on earth, and overcome the fabricated shame that I was imposing on myself. Fear and negativity, for the most part, comes from within. When it comes from the outside, it is easy to identify and avoid.
They say that justice is human. They’re right. But it’s more than that. Life is human. And you have to be human to live it, love it, and have a chance at succeeding at it.