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You’ve been there so many times before-the cocktail party, the Chamber of Commerce or other business event, your kid’s baseball game-when you are hit with the inevitable question: “What do you do?” Such an easy but important question, and one that begs for a powerful, impressive answer. But how many times have you answered, “I’m an attorney,” and stopped there? Or have you been bold enough to further elaborate by saying, I’m an attorney specializing in [fill in the blank] law”? If either of these is your response, realize that you are missing an extremely important opportunity to make a forceful, positive first impression. Whether you are networking for new clients or potential new employers, in this competitive market you cannot afford to make a poor, weak, or, worse, boring first impression. Attorneys may tirelessly represent their clients’ interests, but when it comes to promoting themselves, many tend to freeze up. Perhaps it is a reluctance to speak about oneself; perhaps it is simply not knowing what to say. Whatever the reason, such reticence can be overcome by having a standard “30-second commercial.” Also known as the “elevator pitch,” the 30-second commercial responds to the invitation, “Tell me about yourself.” It is the bait you want your audience to seize. In short, it is a two- to three-sentence description of your background and accomplishments that, if crafted properly, causes the listener to become interested in and want to learn more about you. It opens doors and should be a finely tuned, indispensable part of every attorney’s repertoire. If you have ever represented a startup company, you probably know that the principals of the company have practiced their elevator pitch over and over. They recognize the fact that they never know when they will meet someone who might back their venture financially and, therefore, they have perfected their pitch to an art form. In contrast, many attorneys do not have a commercial of their own, and even those who do rarely take the time to practice and perfect it. This is unfortunate. Like the principals of a startup company, you never know whom you might meet, who might lead you to that great new job, or who might become your next big client. You are just as invested in the success of your career as the principals are in their startup, and you should be equally prepared. Remember that first impressions are often long lasting, and negative first impressions may be difficult to overcome. Therefore, your 30-second commercial should be forceful, organized, and provocative. • Forceful. Regardless of whether you are looking for new clients or a new position, no one likes to talk to someone who is negative about his or her job. Instead, put forth a forceful message that shows you are a highly capable attorney who has something positive to offer many organizations. Leave out the fact that you are seeking a new position or need new clients; you do not need such a hard sell at first. • Organized. Be confident, not cocky, and affirmatively state those key attributes that will immediately impress a listener. A message with an overall central theme, rather than a mere a recitation of each and every one of your skills, is much more powerful. For example, depending upon your background, your theme could be that you resolve disputes, prevent disputes from occurring, make corporate deals happen, save companies money, resolve human resource issues, etc. • Provocative. In addition to being interesting, your commercial should prompt a response from your listener. Ideally, this response should be a question. In other words, make the listener want to learn more about you. If your listener asks a follow-up question, you know that, at least for now, you have piqued his interest; that is the main goal of the 30-second commercial. Be sure to keep it brief-don’t get too bogged down in details. The listener does not want to hear, and likely has no time for, details and will likely forget them shortly after your conversation. Instead, remember the big picture and focus on the main message you want to convey to the listener. Aim for being distinctive-tell the listener something different. Do not blend in with the crowd. Remember: The listener might speak to several other attorneys, and you will need to differentiate yourself. Keep it plain and simple-don’t use legalese. Do not assume the listener will know what you are talking about, especially if he is not an attorney; rather, use short, sharp, easy-to-understand words and messages. Be personable-use eye contact and gestures (without overdoing it); show that you can relate to people on a personal level (which is not always the strongest suit of attorneys). Also, try your commercial out on various people, including those who have no idea about what you do. If they understand it and are interested enough to ask a follow-up question, you will know that you have effectively conveyed the right message. When drafting your 30-second commercial, first think about your purpose: What do you want to accomplish? Generally, you will want to interest the listener so that he ultimately will be interested enough to learn more about you. Therefore, ascertain which message will generate the most interest. Remember that your ultimate goal will likely be to have the listener make an introduction to the relevant decision-maker within his organization or, if he is the decision-maker, to carry on the conversation further. Then think about what message is most likely to accomplish this goal. In this regard, you might want to consider what problems you have solved, and whether they are relevant to the listener. Consider whose problems you’ve solved in the past and the amount of experience you’ve had doing so, and ask yourself whether this information would be relevant. Obviously, it helps to have some preparation time before speaking with the individual. That way, you can research his position, organization, interests, and problems and, thus, appropriately tailor your commercial his organization’s particular needs. But this is not always possible. Therefore, you should prepare two or three versions of your general commercial that will be relevant and interesting to the majority of people with whom you come in contact. After discerning your overall message, decide which accomplishments and skills to include so that you can show your value. For example, if you want to convey that you protect organizations’ intellectual property, you might want to state that you monitor others’ use of your clients’ trademarks and copyrighted material; draft cease-and-desist letters and use other forms of dispute resolution to prevent improper use; and, when necessary, bring legal actions to enforce intellectual property rights. If you have trouble explaining in simple terms what you do, try phrasing it in the form of an example. For instance, in explaining that you do intellectual property work, you might say, “You know how companies use certain slogans such as ‘It’s the quicker picker-upper’ or ‘If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer’? Well, I protect against others improperly using such slogans.” By giving the listener a concrete example to grab hold of, often you will create a much more powerful, positive, and long-lasting impression. You also will likely invite the all-important follow-up question, “How do you do that?” In short, by perfecting and pitching your 30-second commercial, you will convey a powerful first impression, stand out from the crowd, and go a long way to attracting new clients or a new employer. Patricia F. Bak and Stephen C. Dwyer are practicing attorneys and principals of Hire Aspirations Inc., which provides career consulting for lawyers by lawyers. They can be reached at (301) 983-3839.

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