Marketing Yourself Internally

As a new lawyer, it can be challenging to find ways to express who you are, identify your work style, and determine what you want in your career. You quickly discover that working as a practicing attorney requires a new set of skills, only some of which you acquired in law school. One of these new skills includes the ability to internally market yourself within your law firm.

“Internal marketing” generally refers to developing a personal brand and extending it throughout your organization—be it a firm of five attorneys or 500—for the purpose of professional growth and development. I have found five techniques that have helped me market myself internally throughout my three years as a junior attorney.

1. Seek out skills, not tasks: As a new attorney, you have the opportunity to learn new skills with every task you complete. You may gain depth and expertise in one area if you repeatedly perform the same task, but you do not necessarily expand your skill set. Beginning your first year and continuing throughout your career, consider what skills you want to develop and what projects will help you gain these desired skills. Then, be bold and ask for these projects. Although it may be intimidating, your mentors and more senior attorneys will likely appreciate your initiative, especially if you explain clearly and succinctly why you want the work and what you have to offer. If you are consistent and professional in your request, you will eventually work your way toward receiving the work you desire and the support from the senior associates and partners ahead of you.

2. Be open to new workstyles: Just as every law firm does things differently, every attorney within a firm uses a unique style to engage with their clients, colleagues and projects. When you’re new to an organization, it can be difficult to grasp not only a new process, but also understand why you are following it. Although your research skills are freshly polished and you’ve likely had one-on-one attention to hone your analysis and persuasive writing skills, you should learn from the working styles of those who have had the experience to figure out what works, and what doesn’t work, before you. The important thing here is that you are open—open to trying a different method, open to listening to what someone else has to say, open to having a new and unexpected experience. If you can display flexibility and adaptability, your coworkers will want to engage with you. And remember—you do not need to stick to a method that does not work for you. Remaining flexible and open to new methods and experiences allows you to gain a reputation for being easy to work with, and that will help you gain more internal clients and work.

3. Practice diplomatic honesty: Every new attorney has had the gutwrenching experience of being asked to do something that he or she has no idea how to do. There are several different ways to approach this, but the approach that has worked best for me is to respond with an equal measure of willingness and candor. For instance, you could respond by saying, “I would be happy to help you with this. I have never done this kind of task before, but I am interested in learning.” Another option is to highlight that you have performed comparable tasks and explain how they might apply to the task at hand. This approach helps you internally market yourself by staving off the possibility that you receive an assignment that you are not equipped to handle (a very real possibility when you are still learning the ropes), resulting in work product that tarnishes your brand.

4. Routinely ask for feedback: Do not let your firm’s formal feedback process be the only time you ask people you work with for their impressions. Annual reviews are good, of course, but they are not enough. Tactfully and concisely asking for feedback should become part of your normal process. This will show your colleagues you are open to feedback and interested in improving, and allow you to use this information to continually improve your skills.

5. Update in a timely fashion: There is no kind of marketing that is “one and done.” Consistency and judicious repetition can help drive a message home. Instead of asking a more senior attorney out for coffee once, ask her out for coffee and follow up six months later with an email. When you get the opportunity to join a team for a project, keep your eyes open for a similar opportunity and reach out again, showing that you are just as eager to help as you were with the first project. Repetition will become a habit, and soon, your internal marketing plan will become second nature.

Paige Haughton
haughtonp@ballardspahr.com

Paige Haughton is an associate in the Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation Group of Ballard Spahr. She assists clients with the design, administration, and governance of retirement, health, and welfare plans. In addition, Haughton works with clients to ensure compliance with applicable statutes and regulations, including ERISA, the Internal Revenue Code, HIPAA, and COBRA. She holds a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.