Law Firms, Partners, Lawyers ~ What do you stand for?

One of the books that has taken my interest over the past few weeks is The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout. It is one of those books that you should always keep close at hand, if only to rain-check the myriad of marketing or business development ideas that your firm promulgates or you create. It is, if nothing else, a great diagnostic tool.

The one law that has kept me thinking over and over about professional practice is Law #5 ~ The Law of Focus:

“The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind.”

The opening of the chapter makes it clear that there is a distinct and overwhelming marketing advantage if a company [firm] “… can find a way to own a word in the mind of the prospect.”

The co-authors say that you literally “”burn” your way into the mind by narrowing the focus to a single word or concept. It’s the ultimate marketing sacrifice.”

Obvious examples in a consumer context:

Social media ~ Facebook;

Mobile Phone ~ iPhone;

Copier ~ Xerox;

Fizzy drink ~ Coke;

Animation ~ Pixar (or Disney).

The book talks about breaking the words into categories like “benefit”, “service related”, “audience related” or “sales related” (preferred brand).

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The problem for law firms is that in trying to chase a number of different sectors they ameliorate the effect of their brand name. Yes they might think that ABC brand stands for Quality but:

(a) is that the perception of their clients?

(b) are there legacy issues they are ignoring?

(c) is the sum of the parts greater than the whole?

(d) can one name cover all practice areas?

(e) what does the logo or colour do for the perception?

(f) what is the concrete evidence to support the assertion?

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The problem for partners is that absent meaningful feedback from their clients and colleagues they may have little idea what their name stands for.

It may mean one thing to one client but something completely different to another.

360 surveys were all the rage but have gone out of vogue. But if you were to do a regular 360 survey surely you would get a very good idea of what you stood for. And it is likely that the lack of straight talk in professional practice will mask a range of issues that will help a partner improve and refine their ‘word’ in the mind of the client e.g. “She is a brilliant lawyer”.

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Lawyers may not even have thought about their brand and will be so busy trying to build a career that they will think that being professional and doing their best is all they need to do.

Just looking at a profile on LinkedIn can give a good impression of a person, hence a Tweet that I put out two days ago about the meaningless pattern of people without pictures.

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But the most significant impact of all these identification/marketing issues is a (meaningful) lack of codification and adherence to immutable values (in the same way as the marketing laws of Messrs Ries and Trout).

The truth of it is that values should mean more than just bolting on another part of the marketing strategy: “These are our values which we crafted after a lot of discussion”.

Values if they are going to enter the pshyche and really mean something only come about where everyone cares about the firm, delivers consistent WOW client service and abets the personal development of everyone in the firm, regardless of their position or pay grade. Sound too glib for some – what else is there?

If a firm set out its core values and refused under any circumstances to depart from them, then it would be so much easier to fashion “… a word in the prospect’s mind”.

Take Zappos’ values:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

Now you may not like these but how many firms offer to their staff after completing their induction a cash payment to leave if they cannot live by the firm’s values? Zappos do.

The problem for firms and one that David Masiter has spoken about is that money talks in law firms and even if a person is potentially suspect in living up to a clear set of values, it doesn’t matter enough to ask them to leave. In short as long as they are bringing home the proverbial bacon then the firm’s values are not immutable. Adopting this mindset undermines and eventually breaks down the values so that in the end they become practically worthless and people make them up as they go along.

What does this do to the idea of branding and curating one word that gives marketing distinction and advantage? It leaves it at the front door before it has even had a chance to get going, let alone “burn” itself into a client’s mind.

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If you had to craft a set of values what would you include as the key components?

How would you use the values to drive the law of focus?

What other advantages can be gained by having immutable values?

And finally why do you think that so few firms have a clear set of values like Zappos?

[NB. Having done a Google search on a number of leading firms under the generic search ‘XYZ firm values’ nothing came close to the Zappos values. Nearly every firm talked about being innovative without actually saying what that meant; they nearly all used the word excellence (small ‘e’) without describing what an excellence standard was as opposed to a very good or brilliant and beserk standard; and there was zero indication that in the event that firms broke their own values they would fall on their sword in some way – no doubt they would rely on the extent of the client care letter to define that].

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