Navigating Gender Bias While Marketing Your Legal Practice
In the almost three decades I’ve been writing about or for lawyers, I have learned that women lawyers are every bit as good as their male counterparts – except when it comes to tooting their own horns.
Granted, that’s an overgeneralization. Many women lawyers are perfectly comfortable with self-promotion, and I salute them and admire their self-confidence. Many others, however, are more likely to toil away in obscurity, nervous about calling attention to themselves.
One of the most likely reasons for this discrepancy is the knowledge that women are perceived differently than men are when they promote themselves. Whether they’re negotiating a higher salary, seeking a promotion or just generally promoting themselves, women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t: engage in self-promotion and risk the blowback for stepping outside expected gender norms, or stay quiet and watch the recognition go to others.
The fruits of self-censorship
Gender bias impacts women in the legal profession in many ways, but perhaps none is more pernicious than the one women impose on themselves.
Unfortunately, if the only lawyers promoting themselves are male, male lawyers are the only ones getting noticed. Recognition on “best” lists, quotes in the media, plum speaking spots – all those business development perks, and more, typically go to the lawyers considered leaders in their field. And, like it or not, having a strong public profile can go a long way toward being perceived as a leader in your field.
Of course, the quality of your work is the primary consideration someone should take into account when deciding whether to hire you. But potential clients and referring attorneys often use indicators like “best” lists, media mentions and other indicators of high profile and good reputation when vetting potential lawyers.
As a public relations professional, it has long pained me to see my women clients shy away from recognition their male colleagues don’t just welcome, but seek out. And once those male colleagues get that recognition, they shout it from the roof of the courthouse – as well they should.
Self-promotion doesn’t have to be over-the-top. It can, however, be uncomfortable to work a new muscle. But just as your quads finally got used to spin class, once you get used to calling attention to your accomplishments, it will become less uncomfortable.
What to promote – and how?
If you’re just dipping your toes into the marketing waters, here are a handful of ideas to get started:
1. Start a blog about your practice area. If there’s a recent court decision, regulatory agency ruling, economic development, or any other news event that could affect your clients or potential clients, write a brief blog about it. (Click here to see “What Should I Blog About?” for some tips.)
2. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is as robust as possible and that you’re a member of all the professional groups relevant to your practice area or focus industries. Cross-post all of your blog entries to your LinkedIn page. If you don’t have a blog, use LinkedIn as a mini-blog where you can share your analysis of those events you would otherwise blog about.
3. Create a professional Twitter feed to draw readers to your blog and/or LinkedIn posts. You can also use it to share and comment on news relevant to your clients and prospective clients.
4. Include your social media presence in your email signature line, including your Twitter handle and a link to your LinkedIn profile.
5. Don’t keep good news to yourself. If you receive an honor or recognition, let the world know about it via a press release or, at the very least, social media. Don’t assume everybody already knows about it. And even if they do, there’s no harm in highlighting your presence. Be sure to thank the clients, colleagues and others who contributed to your being recognized.
6. Ditto with speaking engagements and published articles, regardless of how niche the publication or interest group is. The point is to let others know that you are a leader in your field, and to do so regularly.
7. Don’t have any speaking engagements or published articles? Now is the time to start seeking them out. Many publications accept well-written analysis from attorneys, assuming the article is concise and newsworthy. And if there’s a trade group you’re interested in speaking to, look into how they find speakers. Some groups have a formal proposal process and others simply tap into their members’ informal networks. Others only offer spots to paid sponsors. Whatever the method, unless you’re already an in-demand speaker, you’ll probably need to throw your hat in the ring if you want to secure speaking spots. If the group is relevant enough to your practice area, it may even be a worthwhile investment to become a paid sponsor.
8. Seek out recognition on “best” lists: The growing mob of “best” lists can be overwhelming, but pick one or two that you would like to be on and work to get on it. The publications that compile such lists frown on and often penalize lawyers who blatantly campaign to get on them, but it’s entirely appropriate to let a handful of colleagues and clients know that nominations are open and that you’d appreciate their support if they feel you are deserving of such recognition.
9. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good: If you can only find the time or wherewithal to do one of these items, that’s fine. And if you can’t help but compare yourself to another lawyer who seems to have his or her marketing act together, stop it. Doing something to market yourself is better than doing nothing at all.
It’s not just about you
Why should you promote your practice and your expertise if you don’t feel comfortable doing it? For one, unless you have your own firm, your employer is probably counting on you to bring in clients and grow the amount of work you get from current clients. And if you do have your own firm, self-promotion is literally survival, for yourself, your family, and for the families of your employees.
But, even if you already have more work than you can handle, there’s another, more important reason to promote yourself: unless and until there are more women rainmakers and women leaders in the legal profession, the chances of women reaching parity in the legal profession are non-existent. And given the fact that lawyers often go on to be political and business leaders, creating more high-profile women lawyers means there’s a greater pipeline of potential women leaders of all kinds.
In short, if you can’t find any other justification to promote yourself, do it to make the world a better place for your daughters, granddaughters, nieces, little sisters and all the other women coming after you.
How do you toot your own horn? Click here to share your tips with us and we’ll include them (anonymously, if you’d prefer) in a future StoryTime post. And click here if we can help you work out your self-promotion muscles.
Muse Communications, LLC, helps lawyers, law firms and legal services companies tell their story by providing sparkling content across a wide variety of platforms. For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.