LAW & LITIGATION: Ways To Make Your Law Firm Stand Out From The Crowd
Ask most law firms what makes them different from competitors, and you’ll likely hear something along these lines: extensive experience, excellent results, highest quality service.
But because virtually all firms try to differentiate themselves in this same vague way, their efforts to set themselves apart almost always fall short.
Differentiation results from identifying and filling a need others don’t fill. Effective differentiation gives a law firm a significant advantage over the competition. It can make a huge impact on a firm’s bottom line.
Lawyers are smart people. So why is it so hard for them (and other professional service providers) to stand out from the crowd? Because it truly is hard. For one thing, law firms offer services similar to those of other firms, so choosing an effective point of differentiation is extremely challenging. In addition, law firms usually are run by consensus instead of by a CEO who single-handedly sets the firm’s direction.
If your firm is struggling with differentiation, here are some directions you might consider.
1. Respond to client pain. Common client complaints about lawyers include failure to inform clients of developments in their cases, failure to communicate clearly or concisely and poor listening skills. A law firm can pick a pain point and position itself as a firm that responds to that concern.
2. Focus on a practice. Suppose your firm’s business litigation practice generates a substantial chunk of revenue. Zero in on it. Being known as exceptionally competent in a legal area will win your firm work in that area, including referrals from other lawyers. Additionally, this approach can present new opportunities to cross-sell to other practice areas.
Some law firms hesitate to adopt this approach, fearing it will undercut the reputation and marketability of their smaller practices. But the disadvantages may be outweighed by the advantages. These include focusing available resources on a narrower market, thereby increasing the likelihood of success.
3. Use a gimmick. Yes, a gimmick sounds, well, gimmicky. But a gimmick isn’t necessarily bad or contrary to client interests. A Midwest firm differentiates itself by promising to return every client call within two hours.
4. Capitalize on your firm’s inner archetype, in other words, identify your firm’s inner persona and position the firm consistent with the persona. A highly successful California firm has cast itself as an unrelenting warrior, attracting litigation clients who are seeking the fiercest, toughest, take-no-prisoners advocates.
5. Focus on an industry. Suppose you’re a general practice firm that represents several clients in the same industry. Position the firm as an expert in this space. The benefit here is similar to that achieved by focusing on a practice: marshaling resources for a smaller marketplace to increase visibility in that market.
6. Emphasize what is special about your firm’s longevity. Firms often tout the fact that they’ve been in existence for decades; some even have existed for more than a century. Yet longevity alone is not a significant differentiator. It’s what the firm has accomplished during those years that counts. A firm founded four decades ago that has evolved into a regional powerhouse in defending employment discrimination claims would be a candidate for this approach.
7. Highlight a common thread. Examples: a firm heavily focused on the underserved segment of the population, or a firm focused on a particular social justice issue.
Begin the differentiation process by taking inventory of your culture, practice and reputation. Meet with a few key clients and ask them what they think sets your firm apart from competitors. Review competitors’ marketing strategies and materials, everything from taglines to websites. What are their points of differentiation? Are they effective? What lessons about positioning do they have for your firm?
Next, decide on a direction. Whatever you decide, it should be authentic, that is, consistent with your firm’s structure and values. Test the point of differentiation by running it by a few firm partners as well as trusted colleagues outside the firm. A caveat: Make certain you’re the first to market with a particular point of differentiation. If another firm already occupies that space, look elsewhere.
Now the tricky part. Consider how to present your decision to the firm’s partners (or the appropriate committee) for approval. Obtaining buy-in can be difficult. A useful strategy: Provide these individuals with examples of firms that have effectively differentiated and those that have not. Your audience will quickly see the difference.
Once your firm has chosen its point of differentiation, weave it throughout all your marketing materials — website, business card, advertising, even that space on your office wall. Tell the world who you are!
A new differentiation direction requires time to mature. Be patient. Results will surely come, because instead of following the crowd today, you’ve positioned your firm for the future.