Ms. CyberLaw: Five Things that Strengthen Your Personal Brand

Like it or not, our environment is digital. That means it can be pervasive, both personally and professionally. Nonetheless, having an online presence brings with it many rewarding opportunities such as the ability to network with people you otherwise would have been unable to connect with. It can also help you grow your personal brand, which encompasses your reputation and what you stand for as a professional and as an individual. Here are five ways you can better harness the online environment to strengthen your personal brand. 

  1. Reputation, Reputation, Reputation: Before even beginning to think about labeling yourself and projecting your work trajectory, you should be mindful of the importance of reputation. When I volunteered at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office before pursuing law school, I distinctly remember one of my supervisors sitting down with me and really honing in on how reputation precedes your presence anytime, anywhere. It's easy to overlook the importance of reputation, but it is just as easy to build a good (or bad) reputation. Be mindful of the small things. Always offer to help someone. It is likely that they were once in your shoes. Pay it forward. Take time to understand what defines a good mentor. And then be one for others. Always be kind to people. Do not try to overcompensate (especially in ultra-competitive fields of law) and develop the mistaken notion that being kind amounts to being weak. 
  2. Always Put In Your Best Effort: Or, as Ann Miura-Ko notes, always ask yourself if what you're doing is "world-class." If it's not, consider ways to improve. This applies for any task at hand. And usually the small, detailed, or seemingly inconsequential areas of your life are the ones where you could reap the greatest of benefits. For example, that email you are drafting to the professor or prospective boss: is it your very best? Have you chosen the most effective and efficient way of getting your point across? Is it free of silly grammar mistakes and of inattentive spelling errors? (Trust me, you want to ask yourself these questions. Take it from someone who suffered tremendous internal embarrassment when she realized she wrote "the Latham Act" instead of the Lanham Act in an email). These small things are noticeable. And memorable. Not just for you, but for the recipient.
  3. Be Good at What You Do and Only Then Learn How to Sell It: Last month, the Los Angeles County Bar Association and the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles invited students and practitioners to a distinguished panel held at Nixon Peabody. Five panelists presented their ideas on the importance of branding and building one's own personal brand, especially set against the backdrop of social media. This was the main takeaway I got: Before even thinking about how to market yourself or strengthen your online presence, you need to do things that are worthwhile in terms of strengthening your expertise. If you are interested in intellectual property, it is not enough to simply express to people that interest. You need to back it up with demonstrations of your knowledge. You need to be well-versed in news concerning that area of law. You should have coursework that reflects your curiosity. You need to sharpen your skills in that arena. The best way to combat imposter syndrome is to not be an imposter. That requires effort and the willingness to master your subject. It'll be an easy sell once you establish mastery + a good, kind reputation. In fact, you won't be engaged in much 'selling' at that point. Your work and your reputation will speak for yourself.
  4. Assess What to Do with Your Weaknesses: Understand that you are not perfect and that weaknesses are oftentimes areas that can improve with practice. What you need to assess is whether that particular area of weakness is something that hinders your other strengths. If so, it is likely that you will need to exert time and energy into improving these weaknesses. For example, I completely suck at public speaking and thinking quickly on my feet. My first lesson learned: I have to be understanding of myself. I suck compared to people who dedicated their whole lives to improv courses, theatre and acting majors at the undergraduate level, debate class geniuses, and so on. That's a high measuring stick. And it's important to observe things like that because such observations will prevent you from giving up on your road to improvement. You might say that in this digital age, who really needs to be a good public speaker? Can't we all just hide behind our computers and type away our lives? No. Your voice is as much part of you and your reputation as anything else. Project it well. Work on it. Just as you work on your body at the gym. Find something that allows you to learn how to be comfortable in situations that are uncomfortable for you. 
  5. Interact: Always find opportunities to engage with people you find inspiring. Seek out information interviews. Make good use of LinkedIn. Reach out to people for mentorship opportunities. Accept volunteer and mentorship positions. They are never a waste of time. Learn how to be a stellar listener. Do not fake enthusiasm. Do not "fake it 'til you make it." It's noticeable (and comically so). Be genuine in your desire to seek out help and guidance from people who have been where you are. Do not forget them the moment you no longer need advice or a recommendation letter from them. Be genuine in your interactions. Learn what it means to be true to yourself. You might learn that this might not necessarily equate to following the "correct," standard path smile

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