I don’t often write from a personal perspective but, I was recently struck by President Barack Obama’s appointment of Ron Klain as the “Ebola Czar.” Although widely respected as the Democratic political architect of the 2000 Bush v. Gore challenge and as the former Chief of Staff for both Al Gore and Joe Biden, Klain has no medical background but is widely acknowledged as an organizational expert. His selection inspired me to consider personal branding and what makes individuals compelling as I seek my next permanent opportunity as an attorney and eDiscovery professional and what lessons there may be for those engaged in the highly volatile legal services market. This requires that we start with a look at the state of eDiscovery.
The eDiscovery Landscape
The broader legal services market (including law firms, corporations, vendors and government) continues to adjust in search of streamlined, efficient organizational models and that churn dramatically affects personnel. As the eDiscovery landscape continues to change, existing employees and those in the job market must flex with evolving needs to show their value. Worth is a moving target as eDiscovery roles expand to include data management, knowledge management, information governance, cyber-security, records management, project management, practice management, people management, document review, eDiscovery attorney/litigators, technical analysts, programmers, and business development/sales.
Although most roles do not require kitchen–sink qualifications, we are seeing a lot of one-man-band roles being created. In particular, I have noticed a shift to the extremes of the eDiscovery spectrum as opportunities become highly technical or require attorneys with litigation experience. It makes me a little concerned about what is happening in the middle and how eDiscovery professionals should market themselves to exploit their educational background, credentials, experience and goals. Furthermore, how do “softer skills” (process management, team building, effective communication, organizational development) fit into an environment as eDiscovery divides itself into attorney versus tech? As law firms evolve towards more service-oriented institutions, these more nuanced skills become critical in managing complex, process-based matters that may involve collaboration across disparate internal and external entities and, according to eDiscovery standards of practice and bar regulations, also require barred attorneys for many functions.
Personal Branding Basics
Personal branding is not a new concept and in a revolutionizing industry that is constantly developing, it is critical to know your professional value and how to leverage that for current and future opportunities. Marketing guru Seth Godin says, "Many of us are taught to do our best and then let the world decide how to judge us. I think it's better to do your best and decide how you want to be judged. And act that way." While this may seem easier said than done, ingredients for developing your personal brand include;
- Be strategic and align your passion to your brand
- Be authentic, confident, honest and true to yourself
- Assess your strengths and weaknesses
- Objectively appraise where you excel over others
- Understand how others see you and how that corresponds with your current skills and aspirations
- Brand yourself expansively enough to accommodate varied perspectives
- Commit to a brand that you can live every day and manifest in every interaction
eDiscovery Branding through Example
Returning to Ron Klain, the acclaimed master of communication, logistics and organization; we can learn much from his career about the importance of not restricting your opportunities by narrowing how you are perceived. In a similar vein, I have learned how the market can control your future if you allow the industry to assign your brand without your proactive direction. Fourteen years ago, I started out as a contract attorney and I have spent untold hours and years reviewing documents, managing reviews and eventually designing strategies and best practices and that has typed me as the “review guy.” Behind that moniker is an eDiscovery attorney who has now spent a greater proportion of my career advising clients, assembling global resources, managing eDiscovery professionals, developing organizational structure and efficiency, managing and vetting technology, and consulting/speaking/writing on eDiscovery evolution.
Although I can’t construct your individual, personal brand in this context, I can advise that you take control and learn from my experience while following the guidelines laid out above. In a tempestuous industry where organizations may or may not know exactly what they want, be flexible and honest in exploiting the value that you have while envisioning what could be. Remember that your brand is a fusion of your personal values, your skills, your passion and your purpose.