Effective Self-Promotion In The Workplace: A Lawyer’s Guide To Advancing Your Career

For the opposite viewpoint, check out Giovanni Livera's article.

“How do you effectively promote yourself in a cover letter or similar pitch urging someone to hire you—as a lawyer, a law clerk, or whatever else?” asked Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy.

Volokh’s article answer this very important question. He advises, when writing a cover letter to future employers, it’s important to remember [excerpts below]:

Business manners aren’t social manners.

Business manners aren’t social manners and excessive modesty can hurt you badly in business. You don’t start a conversation in a social context by saying that you were #1 in your law school class, but you often should say this in a cover letter.

Objectively verifiable credentials are good, but unverifiable claims are often bad.

‘I got an A+ in my Legal Writing class’ works, but ‘I’m an excellent writer’—without any accompanying evidence—doesn’t. Readers are on guard for what they see as overstatement of one’s abilities, and any unsupported self-promotion will reinforce their initial assumption that the applicant isn’t to be trusted.

Framing your concrete accomplishments in the language of enthusiasm is a nice way of promoting yourself while minimizing any visceral disapproval of perceived immodesty that some readers might have (notwithstanding item 1).

‘I published three articles in law school’ is OK in a cover letter seeking an appellate clerkship, but ‘I’ve long loved legal writing; my experience publishing three articles reaffirmed this for me, and made me realize how much I would enjoy clerking’ is better.

Finally, proofread your cover letter, and your resume, especially carefully.”

Read the full article here.

But, once you’re hired, the self-promotion should not stop. It’s important, especially in a competitive economic climate, to remind your employers of your continued professional achievements at their firm.

So, taking Volokh’s same advice, remember:

Take credit where credit is due.

When a client is exceptionally pleased with work on his case, ensure that your supervisor or managing partner is aware of the role you played. When congratulated, don’t shy away from credit.

If a client writes to you personally with positive feedback, forward on the e-mail to your boss. Add a one-sentence preface that clearly explains your involvement in the process. There’s a fine line when avoiding excessive modesty and excessive bragging.

Be specific about the success of your work product.

When highlighting your achievements or discussing work product with more senior attorneys, be both specific and succinct.

That way, when equity partners compliment senior attorneys on the case regarding the visual aids of the case timeline, for example, the senior attorneys can identify exactly which associate made them shine during pre-trial meetings.

At the same time, don’t overstate your involvement. If your secretary put together the PPT presentation and you have no clue how to duplicate the effort, it’s better to emphasize your excellent managerial skills. Leave the technical ability (and credit) for your assistant.

Enthusiasm is always an asset.

If you enjoy working with a specific attorney or client, make it known. Enthusiasm for a case will help a lawyer stay assigned to it.

When stress levels are high and midnight nigh, enthusiasm for the work at hand will go a long way to support your tired colleagues. Furthermore, you will certainly get noticed by the powers-that-be as a being a “team player” (as long as that’s not your only contribution!).

Proofread EVERYTHING.

Nobody’s perfect. But, attention to detail is why you were hired as a lawyer in the first place. Not only should a budding associate proofread his cover letter to get hired, he should also proofread each brief, motion, and e-mail in order to not get fired.

There’s no room in the boardroom for a sloppy associate. Self-promotion is taken seriously and effective for job promotion when it’s specific, sincere, passionate, and spelled correctly.

-WB

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