Guest blog: Melissa Davies, MD Communications - making the most of International Barrister™ brand

7 September 2016

MD COMMUNICATIONS

One of the best walks to do with a visitor from outside London is round the Inns. It's not always possible - at weekends it can feel the area is blocked off with the filming of wall-to-wall period dramas. 

Heritage like that has a value. But can we use such heritage to win work? In particular, can it win work from abroad? 

Some powerful British brands have taken their home-grown kudos and found that, as an export, is more than a twee souvenir. Not just Burberry - there are the handful of chambers that have opened satellite branches in Hong Kong, New York, Dubai and Singapore. And there are a clutch of public schools that have done the same. 

Get to know your brand

What they have all had to think of to have a hope of succeeding is their 'brand'. Talk of brand may feel a long way from writing essays on HLA Hart while overlooking some quad. But consider this - if you ever name-drop your alma mater, you are dealing in 'brand'. 

You can't then look down on 'brand' - you are in on this brand thing. Why else is it on your CV? In case the chief finance officer at BP needs a 750-word essay on political and legal philosophy? 

Symbols, value and values

With brand, at the outset there's a symbol or image to work with. For a barrister, the Nike 'tick' or the Mercedes 'star' is your chambers; if you have it, 'QC'. The symbol is something you can't change. You'll have to work with it. 

The rest of 'brand' is more interesting, and involves the development of some very clear thinking on two counts: -

·      First, what is your value proposition?

·      Second, what are your values? 

The value proposition is the most important part. It might relate to your ability to keep corporate deals tax-efficient, skill at keeping clients from a guilty verdict at the International Criminal Court or a track record of winning arbitrations. For an international audience, the proposition will need to be simplified and amplified. 

Your values matter too though. Instructing a lawyer remains a hugely personal choice. Values can obviously relate to your politics. But they can also relate to service levels and style. 

These things are easily said, but in practice what do they mean? 

I know a QC who has won international instructions from clients who engaged with his through the medium of Twitter. I'll come back to that.  

Let's start with writing - specifically, with what you can publish in the safety and control of your own website. A busy barrister can only do so many speaking engagements, so this is the basis of how most barristers building their brand for a cross border audience can start. 

Here commentary on laws and cases (or even proposed laws) should only include topics that can be related back to the 'value proposition'. When people go looking for an expert, this is part of your prospectus. It can't be a 'brain dump'. 

But if all you want is international arbitrations and Rolls Building cases, you had better restrict yourself to related topics. 

This is also the foundation for putting your name out more widely in your chosen areas - for media articles, quotes and for speaker slots. 

Social media

Now let's talk about values - for this is where we come, in part, to social media. 

If you do more than 'like' the odd Tweet or link on social media, then you start to display values. Handled right, this is a terrain where barristers have the edge over solicitors of comparable seniority. Being self-employed, they are pretty nimble - they can respond to events and cases and comment without time-consuming clearance. 

While there are some QCs who are so 'present' on Twitter that peers query whether they are ever do any work, others are more discerning. That's why I follow or list scores of QCs on Twitter because they are genuinely useful, and journalists and clients do the same. 

When someone posts a link, delivers news, or has an insight that feels useful to you, they are doing you a service - with good reason, social media accounts are referred to as 'channels'. An indiscriminating  channel gets hidden, unfollowed, switched off. 

Unlike an article, this is also an opportunity to be generous - sharing the links, thoughts or communications of the people you want to relate to. 

The big picture

Will stakeholders then direct message ('DM') you to say 'act for me'? Possibly. But here's how I think it actually works. 

The QC who had 'won' work through his tweets is working to brand rules. He has defined his area of appeal, and it is reasonably narrow. Everything you'll find out about him joins up - the articles, speeches, media commentary and his Twitter account. 

Such online guidelines - which set the scene for your 'real' interactions - are easy to state, but seem surprisingly hard to follow. But if you are serious about winning that work, you'll give them a go. 

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also co-chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee. She will be speaking at the IBA on the value of networks and how to best use your marketing budget. MD Communications is on Twitter @mdcomms