In this week’s edition of Things I Wish I Knew, solo attorney Joleena Louis explains how solo attorneys can determine their law firm’s core values in order to strengthen their personal brand.
I’ve been speaking with other lawyers about branding lately. The one thing that keeps coming up is core values. I personally believe you can’t build a personal brand without first determining those values.
What are Core Values?
Core values are the essence of your firm’s identity. It’s a combination of your principles, beliefs, philosophy and values. They guide your firm’s actions and provide the framework for how your firm engages with employees, customers and competitors.
The Purpose Core Values
Once you determine your law firm’s core values, building your personal brand will be much easier because you’ll know what you want to communicate to your target audience. Additionally, your core values will help provide structure for many of your marketing efforts.
Your core values will educate clients and referral sources about what your firm is about. If they identify with your values, then they are more likely to want to work with you.
For example, studies show feeling aligned with a company’s core values is the main reason why clients feel they have a relationship with a brand. Since solo attorneys are their brand, it is essential for them to establish core values that will attract and connect with their ideal client.
You law firm’s core values will also remind you (and your employees) what matters most for your brand. Research indicates that companies with a high sense of purpose outperform others by 400%. Your core values will help you make many decisions, such as what services you offer, what clients you want to work with and who you should hire.
For example, integrity is one of my core values so I won’t work with anyone that I perceive as dishonest or lacking sincerity. I will not hesitate to pass up profits if it means working with someone unethical.
Success strategist Adrienne Dorison explains it best: “When you intentionally develop your core values, they increase your speed for decision making, help you avoid costly mistakes, reduce stress, and allow you to stay true to yourself and your customers.”
How to Develop Core Values
Developing your law firm’s core values isn’t easy. Many attorneys think they understand their values, but fail to properly express them. According to marketing expert Kevin Daum, you don’t really understand your core values until you can communicate them clearly in writing and test them through your daily decision-making.
Common issues with core values:
- They are too long. Summarize each value in a few words and use a sentence or two to elaborate on them.
- They’re not actionable. Make sure you’re clear about how each value is connected to the way you run your law practice.
- There are too many of them. I recommend 4-6 core values for any law practice. Try to narrow your list to the things that are really important to you.
A process for coming up with your law firm’s core values:
- Write down what is important to you. You don’t have to keep this to single words or short phrases. Simply start writing what type of behaviors and beliefs are important to you, both personally and professionally. Are you someone who really cares about spending time with their family? Do you make an extra effort to contribute to your community?
- List your greatest accomplishments and strengths. Sometimes the things that are important to you aren’t always obvious and the easiest way to pinpoint them is to take a look at your past behavior. How did you get to where you are today? What aspects of your personality or professional life led to your greatest triumphs? What are the commonalities between what you have accomplished and what strengths you have to offer?
- List your greatest failures and solutions. Your values are also a reflection of your failures. Think about reasons why you might have experienced setbacks in life and write down the advice you gave yourself to avoid repeating those mistakes. For example, perhaps you once got caught in a lie and paid the price for it. That experience might have influenced you to value truth and integrity.
- Write down what your ideal client is searching for. Aside from consistent communication and competence, your clients have expectations for the type of person they want representing their case. Your practice area could have a huge influence on this. For example, as a family law attorney, I list compassion as one of my core values because I often have clients who are dealing with really sensitive life events.
- Narrow them down. Try to find any common themes between the list you just created. Take the sentences you wrote down and find a single word or short phrase that summarizes that value. After you have summarized your values in a smaller list of a only a few words and combined the ones that are very similar, try numbering your list based on importance. This will help you only pick a few at the end.
- Determine their longevity and flexibility. Once you have your narrowed list, ask yourself if these values would still be relevant 100 years from now. If you made a complete career change today, would these still be the values you would uphold? Remember, this isn’t only about choosing values that express what kind of lawyer you are. These values should encompass who you are as a person and a professional, no matter what type of work you’re doing. This is the code you live by inside and outside of the office.
- Ask your colleagues. Asking a friend or peer what they see in you can help provide some perspective. Go over your list with a fellow attorney and ask them if they’ve observed these qualities in you. Make sure you’re talking to someone who will be honest with you and don’t be offended if they think you’re off base with some of the items on your list. You need to choose values that you act on in your day-to-day life.
- Test your values. Now you should see for yourself if you can demonstrate your values in the way you run your firm. Take a few weeks to analyze your actions. Reflect on each day and record all the ways you have acted according to your values. If you’re not seeing any actions that align with a certain value then maybe that one isn’t as strong and you might want to consider replacing it.
Examples of core values
A few of the core values for my firm, Joleena Louis Law, include:
Authenticity – Knowing myself and being willing to walk away from clients and opportunities that don’t fit with my firm. My clients can always expect me to be real with them.
Character – Doing the right thing, even when it’s not profitable or convenient.
Compassion – It’s extremely important to me and my brand to always remember that most of my clients come to me at one of the lowest points in their lives and a little compassion from me goes a long way.
Excellent Customer Service– One of the reasons I started my own practice was my desire for full control over the service I provide to my clients. This is a cornerstone of my brand and my most important core value.
Determining core values is a not a fast or simple process. It’s important for you to be certain of the values you’ve selected and confident that you won’t waver from them. Remember these core values will influence the rest of your branding and marketing efforts so you don’t want to select values that you’ll want to change later, otherwise you’ll risk seeming inconsistent.
A good resource that discusses the process of determining core values in greater length is a book called Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman. I recommend reading this as you begin thinking about developing your law firm’s core values.