Grand Traverse-Leelanau-Antrim Bar Association

May 2018 Newsletter

Feature Article:  Personal Branding: You Are Your Own Brand

Tip 1:  You Don't Have to Be a General Practitioner Just because It's a Small Market

By Lori Schmeltzer, Schmeltzer Law PLLC

There is no doubt that our region is a smaller community than the bigger cities downstate.  The size of our community presents some challenges for lawyers trying to build a niche practice here.  It's certainly tempting, with a smaller client base, to paint a broad stroke with your business and practice areas.  The more things you do, the more potential clients you'll have, right? 

Maybe, but maybe not.

Building a personal brand could be your open door to the rest of the state, and even the world, which is full of potential clients.  Our society is more mobile and accessible than ever before.  Small town lawyers no longer need to look to their neighbors as the sole source of business, because advancements in technology and transportation allow us to reach much more of the population.  Personal branding can help create a client base that reaches beyond your neighbor calling you when they have a DUI, property line dispute, child custody matter, contract problem AND an injury potentially caused by another’s negligence.  Personal branding can also help you to build a career that is fulfilling and enjoyable, because you can chose what areas of law or people you are most passionate about.

Branding is not about advertising, but advertising in a variety of methods and modes can certainly help communicate your brand to the general public (some types can be free and low cost too).  Personal branding is developed over time by small actions, and steps, meant to communicate to the public at large who you are, and what you are all about… and why they should hire you.  Developing a brand can also have far reaching benefits, especially with today’s technology allowing you to communicate with potential clients in ways lawyers from 50 years ago couldn’t.  Being in a smaller market like Northern Michigan means you have to appeal to a wider audience, you do this by either (1) meeting the needs of more people in your community by offering a wider scope of services, or (2) you narrow your scope of services, but reach people outside your community.  Another benefit to personal branding is that you can capture the lion’s share of the market in your community looking for a particular service, as the population would see you as “the lawyer” to call when they have that particular problem.

So where do you start?  

You first need to decide what your “brand” is.  Some good questions to ask yourself, and even get input from family and friends, are:

(1) What areas of law am I really passionate about? 

(2) What are my personal hobbies and interests, and is there a legal side to those? 

(3) Who in the community do I want to work with (demographics)? 

These questions can help you develop and determine your brand.

Some examples I have seen of attorneys who have been very successful at creating themselves as a “brand” and the go to person:  Pet Trust Attorney, Farming Attorney (and farming succession planning), Equine Attorney, International Child Custody/Parental Abduction Attorney, Attorney to the Amish, etc.

Look out for the June newsletter for the next segment on Personal Branding for Lawyers.

About the author:  Lori B. Schmeltzer is the owner of Schmeltzer Law PLLC, Traverse City's Divorce Lawyer (  Lori practices primarily in family law, and has a background in business management and marketing, having earned her Bachelor's in Business Administration from Walsh College in Troy before attending law school.   She has served on the GTLA board for two years, is an active member and committee chair with the Traverse Area Chamber of Commerce's FUSE (formerly Young Professionals) organization, and is a proud Rotarian. 

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