Client Confidentiality & The Era of Personal Branding
I began my professional life as a business lawyer. I am honored and proud to be a lawyer and proud of the work I did as a lawyer during the 12 or so years that I practiced.
I love thinking through legal problems and solving legal puzzles. That said, I don’t like to sit behind a desk all day and I'm more into harmony than conflict resolution, so I’m unlikely to return to the active practice of law anytime in the near future.
One of the challenges I've run into is how to translate my extensive legal experience in the business world to land new business and career opportunities outside of the legal profession.
I typically have at least one conversation per week where another person says some variation of this:
“Wow, you have an awesome set of skills and expertise. I'll be you have career opportunities just flowing in all the time.”
I've been hearing this for well over 10 years, since I finished my dissertation and added the Ph.D. to my list of accomplishments.
Overqualified for the Corporate World
Too Interdisciplinary for Academia
The reality is that I've usually been labeled “over-qualified” in the corporate world.
Another way of putting it is that I'm deemed (by some) insufficiently narrow in my expertise to fill most jobs. For example, I don't do cost accounting, engage in supply-chain systems optimization, or initiate HR-best practices for outsourcing the workforce. I'm not sufficiently myopic in my pursuit of academic topics.
My expertise, the value I add, is all about understanding. I can quickly identify the relevant pieces to a puzzle, evaluate how those pieces fit together, examine them in light of emerging trends, and create a viable strategy, solution or opportunity for something bigger and better.
That's what I did every day as a lawyer and legal-problem solver. I solved problems to prevent or minimize crises. That's what I've done in my smaller personal entrepreneurial ventures and volunteer efforts. And it's how I approach my work in the academic classroom. As a teacher, I use this approach to select and refine the subject matter in courses I teach and I strive to enable students to do the same as they prepare for a career in a world that is changing much faster than academia.
It's just as well that I'm deemed over-qualified for mid-level corporate management or analyst roles. I'm not interested in those types of jobs. I'd be bored out of my mind in a cubicle, doing the same spreadsheet analysis every day, writing Dilbert-esque reports or creating an awesome presentation for someone else to deliver.
No Boxes for Me
The reality is that people don't know what box to put me in. I don't like boxes, so I haven't made it easy. But that's really my strength.
If everyone is in the box, no one knows what's on the outside.
My professional life has been all about helping businesses and leaders expand their box, improve their box, or move from one box to a new box. I help students who realize there's life beyond the narrowly-defined career categories and specialties that academia offers them.
Practical Knowledge To Move Beyond The Status Quo
My strengths are the result of my ability to understand, comprehend and synthesize disparate bits of information. I am all about vision, strategy, innovation, change management, adaptability, communication, resilience.
I have developed and sharpened myhighly practical business knowledge through more than a decade of of guiding businesses and high-net worth individuals in my law practice and through a lifetime of problem-solving, advancing my own skills, and engaging with the real world as a business owner and committed citizen.
Not only can I quickly grasp new ideas and understand things outside the realm of first-hand knowledge, I have the ability to interpret that information, apply it, and communicate it to a new audience.
I've been a business owner and manager, as well as an employee at every level of an organization.
But my expertise goes beyond practical, applied tactics.
Through my Ph.D.-level academic work, I also understand the theory that explains or seeks to explain systems thinking, organizational development, leadership and communication.
Writer, Speaker, Advocate
As a paid writer and consultant, I have written more than a hundred published feature-length articles for trade magazines and newspapers. I have a huge portfolio of work as a copywriter for several ad agencies.
And I have extensive experience as a public speaker on a range of topics, from continuing legal education seminars to civic organization talks to leadership training workshops for college students and social media marketing for business owners. I've been active in public speaking since 4th grade when I won 1st prize in my school's 4H Club Public Speaking Contest.
I also have more than a few scholarly research papers and presentations in my dossier.
On top of all of those accomplishments, I have 2 decades of experience creating and publishing online content for fun and business.
So the reality is, traditional skills and job descriptions are too narrow to describe what I can do.
But the challenge I've often faced is how to communicate the specifics of real-world business challenges that I've resolved or helped to resolve without breaching client confidentiality.
How do I tell these stories?
Specifics in Law Practice
During the 12 or so years that I spent actively practicing law, I routinely represented small businesses and professional clients in 7-figure+ business transactions.Many of those 7-figure deals in the early to mid-90s would be 8-figure deals in today’s dollars.
The biggest transactions I handled usually involved the healthcare industry, and occasionally involved sales to major publicly-traded companies. My clients were sometimes the sellers, sometimes the buyers.
The deals often involved real estate and real estate developments. Sometimes, I was involved in writing and/or reviewing contracts ancillary to real estate development projects–like cable television delivery agreements or homeowner association governing documents.
Another big focus of my practice was new-entity formation and restructuring for business expansion into new projects. I formed a lot of LLCs and limited partnerships for real estate projects, healthcare and, occasionally, oil and gas.
Related to my general business work and my interest in intellectual property law, I handled trademark registrations and assisted litigators with cases involving business trade secrets. Occasionally, I reviewed contracts and advised authors on publishing matters and copyright law.
Contracts between professionals (usually MDs) and healthcare service providers was another focus of my law practice.
Estate and business succession planning rounded out my law practice areas. I had a mix of clients who needed guidance for estate and tax matters, but many had a high net worth and needed advice about how best to structure estate plans involving commercial real estate, manufacturing operations and/or other b-to-b and professional services firms.
My firm represented municipalities and quasi-government corporations involved in public/private activities, so I was also involved in work related to municipal financing. Once, I wrote updated regulations for delivery of cable TV services to a small municipality.
Owner and Manager
I was a shareholder (owner) in Rosen, Cook, Sledge, Davis, Carroll & Jones, P.A. (today, Rosen Harwood, P.A.). During those years, I had a range of management-level responsibilities, including hiring and managing employees and shaping the vision and future of the firm.
I've also owned my own, small law practice (as a sole-practitioner) where I was 100% responsible for all the business decisions. I've been self-employed as a freelance writer, as well.
Confidentiality Comes First
Confidentiality is one of the marks of an ethical lawyer so I have never promoted the details about the types of transactions I worked on. I've never even identified my clients outside of my law practice, except in a few situations where publicly-filed documents made it obvious that I represented someone or some business entity in a transaction or legal proceeding. Even then, I've never revealed anything more about the attorney-client relationship: “Yes, I worked on that” is about as much as I've ever said.
Unlike litigation, the work of a transactional lawyer is rarely public. The work is seen by the client, other lawyers and the clients of other lawyers who are involved in the negotiations or present at closings.
I often received thank-you letters from clients and referrals by the clients and other lawyers. But these are not the same as “Likes” on Facebook, so they aren’t something I feel I can display as a testimonial on my website.
So the challenge is finding a way to tell the story of all I've accomplished in my professional life, while maintaining the confidentialities of my business and estate planning clients and adhering to what I consider proper professional ethics and decorum.
In short, as I've said elsewhere, “tooting my own horn” is not my natural tendency.
I'd love to hear suggestions about how to handle this, especially if you're a lawyer!