I received an innocuous little message the other day… “Can you please tell us what you do in less than one hundred words?” It was for a law firm’s newsletter and I was getting some advance billing for a series of workshops that would be running in a few weeks time… “Easy” I thought, but I soon discovered that it was anything but easy; and now I put the same challenge to you.

It reminded me of one of the exercises in my presentation skills programme which requests delegates to imagine they have stepped into a lift to find that the only other person in it is their Chief Executive, who then asks, “so tell me what do you do”. The delegate has about twenty seconds to make a positive impression.

Very often lawyers describe what they do by the specialism they have; for example you might hear some say “I work in Employment” or that “I’m a litigator” etc.

Similarly in the presentations law firms make to join new client panels I will often read that law firms employ “XX commercial lawyers” in “XX countries”; and while it is interesting to know this, it is hardly ever a point of differentiation between competitor firms who can say almost exactly the same things in such strikingly similar ways!

So could you describe what you do in one hundred words or less and make it sound valuable and interesting?

Such a communication might, of course, change according to the audience (your mum or your boss…) but in essence, in the context of your professional value and expertise…what do you do that would make someone (client or colleague) want to invest more of their precious time and energy engaging with you?

As you ponder…you may begin to see yourself not just as a lawyer with a subject expertise, but as any number of things…A facilitator, problem solver, a creative solution finder, a shoveller of waste product! You might consider yourself a communicator, a diplomat, a trusted advisor…and so on…

And as you develop a little literary flourish in these attractive descriptions, consider as well, whether your clients and colleagues would agree with you…Not to be harsh in any way, but do they honestly and consistently see, feel and appreciate the role you now profess to have?

You see, you are far more than just a lawyer…you are all of the above (and more) and each element is visible for better or for worse, every single day…The responsibility this places on you is to both live up to the aspiration of your role and to find ways to demonstrate that you are succeeding.

Let us take just one idea and develop it…you are a creative problem solver…This is good. You should be and your colleagues and clients should want you to be; but how many problems did you solve today? This week? This month? Is it more or less than you think?

What value can you ascribe to the problems you have solved? Would your colleagues and clients agree with you? Was the value you ascribe worth the effort of your time?

In what ways were your solutions creative? Would that creativity be valued by your colleagues and clients? Would they have valued a different approach? Or were they delighted with your answer and the way you reached it?

This is really important stuff, because if you cannot describe these things, please do not expect your clients and colleagues to do so for you. And if you cannot easily describe these things, you are either not doing it (at all or enough) or you need to check that you are…

It is a truism that we are valued less for our legal skills and much more for our people skills, but because it is a truism we tend to skate over its significance.

It does no harm therefore to remind ourselves occasionally that being “a litigator” or “an employment lawyer” is pretty much a pointless and meaningless description of what we do, when everything about our value is predicated on influencing, relationship building, communicating, facilitating, being creative etc, etc.

This is a good lesson.

And if you do the same in-depth analysis of all the other epithets that you would like ascribed to you…you will have a far deeper understanding of what you do, how you do it and how well you are valued for it…

I hope you can say wonderful things about yourself and your work, but we are mere mortals and we will be wracked with some self-doubt at least some of the time; my guess is that this exercise will give a little pause for thought.

This is, I think good news, it will show us gently where we might need to focus some effort…not always to be better at what we do, but to become so much better at how we do it.

So, back to the description of what you do in less than one hundred words…

It still won’t be easy, but it will feel good to know that you have explored the edges of what you say are good things to be, to have a better understanding of how these things are valued and to know you have areas to work on to become even better at what you do.

So the next time you step into a lift and find yourself alone with the chief executive, after you have floored them with your erudition, you might even ask the same question of them…”So tell me…what do you do”!!!