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The positioning of law firms

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You may have sometimes wondered why, while an extremely prestigious client hires your firm’s services, he only does so for minor cases, and commissions other more profitable cases to other legal practices.

Your law firm may very probably be prepared to render the services that clients commission to other firms, but the clients do not consider your firm for these cases.

This is a problem of positioning, which is significant for potential clients. Clients do not recruit your services for these cases because they perceive that there are other more suitable firms to commission them to.

As someone once said, in life, and this also goes for professional activity, “the most essential thing is that which is intangible”. Friendship, prestige, reputation, credibility, confidence, etc. are all intangibles. This essential thing cannot be bought with money. You must know how to manage it throughout your professional life.

Good management of perception leads legal practices to have the type of clients and cases they want to have, the most profitable ones, avoiding price competition, or in other words the lack of appreciation of professional services. By the way, do you manage your firm’s perception? If so, congratulations. However, are you sure that you are managing it properly? Have you created a concept of a unique firm and are you transmitting this concept to (potential) clients with the right messages, consistently and coherently, and at the right time?

From the marketing, i.e. client, point of view, legal markets in the world are undifferentiated. There is a great deal of competition in every speciality (for example in advice to small and medium-sized companies, urban development and real estate law, in penal and civil law derived from traffic and occupational accidents), although no firm, or practically no firm, is a reference, or even the reference company, in its category, be it at regional and national level, and in many cases even at local level.

Although they do not normally know this, most firms, including networks of law firms, have a problem of positioning, perception, meaning in the market. Thus, for example, there are lawyers who say that their firms belong to prestigious networks, groups or alliances. In most cases, potential clients (companies, basically) have never even heard of networks of lawyers, to say nothing of specific names. With these foreseeable precedents, what meaning can the network in question have to potential clients? Will the network be in a position to compete for client preferences?

There is a need to create concepts of networks that allow their members to compete at national or international level with a chance of being successful. As the potential clients do not perceive significant differences, in perceived value, among the legal practices or their networks, they use price to apply pressure. This behaviour is only to be expected.

As a result of the general lack of dedication and imagination to create distinctive and recognised concepts of firms or networks, imitating the large ones is common practice. By doing so we are doing a huge favour to the big legal advice concerns, and they logically take advantage of this. As we have commented before, the main competitive edge of large firms is the lack of branded strategy of the small- and medium-sized ones. If there is something that small and medium-sized law firms should leverage, it is precisely promoting their brands, their main assets, together with their professionals. Paradoxically, the brand is an intangible thing, a perception.

The point of departure to create a recognised brand are the legal quality of the firm’s professionals. A brand cannot be consolidated without legal quality. Having a brand does not depend on the size of the firm or its geographical location. And a brand is “simply” a name with a meaning, a meaning which clients attach value to in their mind, which is where the hiring of lawyers is decided.

Small- or medium-sized firms, when they grow, tend to launch a whole ensemble of multidisciplinary services, imitating the large firm models and gradually losing what could make them a point of reference in their market category. By imitating the medium-sized offices they will always be behind the large ones, those that set the rules of the game. It is not necessary to master strategic art to understand it, but we must reflect upon the consequences of our acts.

Most firms “sell” services; very few are positioned, recognized, as (the) reference point in one or some specialties. By way of example: many firms accept a case of compensation for traffic accidents if it comes up due to the substantial fees which they may expect to charge. However, from the client’s point of view, which offices are the reference point in this discipline? If the potential clients or those who may impact their decisions do not know this then they are hardly likely to choose you.

In a market flooded by supply, one of the keys consists of winning the battle through client preferences. This can be obtained by means of specialisation, quality in law, the creation of a brand, the partners’ ability to secure the commitment of associates and collaborators, the capacity to create brand loyalty in clients and via the messages the brand transmits, which should translate into associations to which potential clients attach great value.

Have no fear: being successful in markets requires selection. Your firm can continue to render services in multiple specialities. However, the client must perceive what your firm’s speciality or specialities are. Choose the most profitable ones, those which have a potentially good future, and above choose the specialities your firm is best prepared to address. The fewer specialities the better. The client needs references to decide who to hire. Help him.

Until your firm really know what the client’s thought process is when deciding to hire a legal practice, your brand will be underperforming. On one occasion, a lawyer whose firm is small and is located in a provincial capital of 160,000 inhabitants, told us: “in our city law practices are generally speaking unspecialised. We take all cases”. The lawyer wondered what he would have to do to begin to be a cut above his competitors.

We want you to be very clear about what you should do in similar and very frequent cases. Knowing how to do it is a different matter altogether.

 

© Francesc Dominguez, legal marketing and personal branding consultant, www.francescdominguez.com .