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Law Firms: Make Sure You Stand for SOMETHING

If someone asked you to describe, in one word, a ‘high street’ brand, chances are you wouldn’t find yourself tongue-tied:

  • John Lewis – solid;
  • Co-Op – ethical;
  • Tesco – value;
  • Rolex – expensive;
  • GAP – preppy;
  • Nike – dominant;
  • BMW – solid;
  • Mont Blanc – sophisticated;
  • Disney – fun.

You get the picture.

Now think of the traditional high street legal practice, and strip away your inside knowledge from having had them on the other side or with colleagues having worked there, and undertake the same exercise.

Are they remotely distinctive – in the sense that you or, of more relevance, the general public understand what they stand for? I very much doubt it.

Yes they might have different offices, websites, logos and personnel but ask a straw poll of local people and would they be able to differentiate, in one word, one firm (in the same town) from another? Sure they may know some of the big cheese partners but what does that say of the brand. Imagine saying what do you think of Nike and being told: “All I know is that they sell trainers, but I know their CEO is Mark Parker“. That would look pretty stupid but that is often what happens when you ask someone who is an infrequent buyer of legal services to describe this (high street) firm or that one.

Imagine then once you see the full emergence of the retail brands on the high street market, who have decided to take a big fat slice of the growing legal market?

Are you going to try to compete with them in your current guise? Good luck. Oh sure, you could sign up with a collective like Quality Solicitors but the reality is that over time you will see high street firms’ market being steadily eroded as consumers migrate to those brands that they know, like and trust.

Some firms have already worked this out and are trying to strengthen, and not change, their existing brand to ensure that it is much more distinctive, has a consumer led feel and can be built upon for the future.

[As an aside, should firms be looking to see if one brand name can support a range of disparate services ranging from conveyancing to probate to complex tax planning to commercial services?]

Whether though this re-branding will stand up for long to the tidal wave of multi-million pound advertising, Facebook pages for clients or retail brand and closed network, direct mail marketing is doubtful. Of course, all of this feels a long way off at the moment but you only need to see how quickly the retailers have grown their food and non-food businesses to understand the likely timing of the paradigm shift.

Where does this leave high street firms? Undoubtedly, in a questionable place.

Should they:

  1. Adopt a chambers model so that they embrace the Brand You (see Tom Peters)?
  2. Re-brand?
  3. Have a stronger vision or mission statement and a set of values that everyone believes in?
  4. Differentiate themselves without the need to invest heavily in their brand. One way of doing this might be to super-specialise but is that feasible when it is likely that most of the talent will have migrated to the City.
  5. Adopt a different business model completely so that they can offer a price differentiator? This looks unlikely given the retailers’ ability to outspend and outlast all but their biggest and most sophisticated of competitors.

It looks decidedly tricky doesn’t it.

What needs to happen, beyond anything else, is that law firms start to cherish their clients like they have never cherished them before. Make them feel so damn special that they are give no or very few reasons to jump ship. Oh sure there will still be a cohort who will always be on the look out for a bargain but chances are they can be reeled back in by WOWing them with your memorable and remarkable service.

Perhaps the mantra should be service, service, service.

But don’t what ever you do pay lip service to it. If you are going to raise your flag pole around something then for heaven’s sake make sure that people understand it, appreciate it and believe 100% in it. If you can’t get everyone to coalesce sufficiently around your new found mantra then start again, look for real buy in and make sure you indelibly imprint the new message in every conceivable location you can find. Yes, even the toilets are not immune.

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