On my way back yesterday from the beautiful City of Bath, I was struck by how the mood of the place is cemented by the use of gorgeous Bath stone. Even the newest nursing home is adorned with a canvass of gleaming, honey-white stone.
But having driven round a few times, I began to feel that one house looked exactly like the next. Now, I know that there were some distinctive features – my eldest daughter kept pointing them out to me – but I would have a job now to describe, with any degree of precision, each and every property that I saw.
There hangs the problem for law firms whether their ‘voice’ is articulated by:
- Their innocuous websites;
- Their obsession with looking to offer on said websites the broadest range of specialism or practice area on the basis, presumably, that to avoid a pithy line here or there would mean that a client would think they didn’t offer that service;
- Having bios for their lawyers that read exactly the same no matter which website they visited – blah, blah, blah;
- Producing case alerts;
- This flyer or that flyer which is a repackaged version of the on-line material that they received that week;
- The lack of engagement generally with the site.
And the problem doesn’t just stop with the immediate facade: Each firm, because it is offering the same range of services, fails miserably to distinguish itself in the marketing, networking and business development stakes:
“We are full-service law firm offering a quality service.”
“We offer a first rate service, where we work closely to identify their needs and provide expert solutions.”
“We are a top 50 firm in Chambers and we act for a range of XYZ companies; and provide expert legal services of the very highest quality.”
As I have been expressing for some time, how much of this *stuff* is remarkable?
It wouldn’t be hard for firms to make a mark if they were to drop the pretence that they were trying to stand out and be different when in reality all they are trying to do is ape their immediate competitor or trying to aspire to be like a Top [x] firm.
As I have referred to previously, Seth Godin in his book The Purple Cow puts it this way:
“With marketing, though, its puzzling. What could the Four Seasons and Motel 6 have in common? Other than the fact that both experienced extraordinary success and growth in the hotel field, they couldn’t be more different. Or Wal-Mart and Neiman Marcus, both growing during the same decade. Or Nokia (changing its hardware every thirty days) and Nintendo (marketing the same Game Boy for fifteen years in a row).
It’s like trying to drive by watching the rear-view mirror. Sure, those things worked, but do they help us predict what will tomorrow?
What all of those companies have in common is that they have nothing in common. They are outliers. They’re on the fringes. Super-fast or super-slow. Very exclusive or very cheap. Very big or very small.
The reason it’s so hard to follow the leader is this: The leader is the leader because he did something remarkable. And that remarkable thing is now taken – it’s no longer remarkable when you do it.”
Far from me to tell every Managing Partner to adorn her/his office with this quote but it would act as firm message the next time someone mentioned the same cohort of firms in the context of a marketing or business development initiative.
Unfortunately, though, lawyers are not blessed with a huge amount of lateral thinking and even if they have the ability to come up with something that looks or feels different (and I mean Weird different) there will be a barrage coming over the wall from the usual suspects who come up with the predictable stuff. Or they may even say: “We tried that before but it didn’t work”, meaning that they gave it a go but, because of the short-termism that pervades law firms, they quickly killed it off when it didn’t live up to the (financial) expectations.
There is also the problem that partners hope that they can adopt a system that is either tried and tested or that looks safe.
Now don ‘t get me wrong, I understand better than most the sensitivities of following the firm line, not upsetting the clients or breaching confidentiality but that is no excuse for not trying to be different.
This year will bring many continuing challenges for law firms not least the emergence of smart, retail focused brands but please don’t wait around for them to drive things in the hope you can copy them. No, professional practice, has to look for opportunities now.
MY TOP TIP
Each firm should go out and buy a cheap video camera and brainstorm all the potential opportunities to integrate video into their practice. Video is likely to explode this year and clients will be thrilled to find your firm’s expertise produced in way that make the interaction remarkable.
If this sounds like too much effort then think about your existing service delivery. How can you make that look and feel completely different to the opposition? Can you improve:
- The service standards?
- Turnaround time on jobs?
- Use of more on-line technology to deliver a cheaper service?
- Guaranteed service levels supported by money-back guarantees?
This is not about a USP but just having something for others to remark on and for your people to have confidence in discussing and selling.
If you don’t distinguish yourself then you can expect clients to pass you by on the basis that they can’t remember the firm name let alone what you do.
The canvass is all there – now go create a remarkable firm.
For more on developing profitable business, innovating in professional practice and implementing social media, subscribe to the RSS Feed of my Blog. Follow me on Twitter at @0neLife, or @Ju_Summerhayes connect to me on LinkedIn or friend me on Facebook. If I can help you or your practice, check out my coaching and consulting firm via LinkedIn, email me on juliansummerhayes [at] gmail [dot] com or call me on 075888 15384.