Starting a Law Firm: How to Truly Differentiate Yourself
Every lawyer starting a firm is faced with the same conundrum – how to differentiate an offering that shares the same root? All lawyers operate in a tightly regulated environment and work a single set of established rules, precedents and processes that apply equally to every business and citizen.
The services derived from this root and which every law firm sells are the same. The breadth of a firm’s service offering may vary, but the individual legal services are the same.
The answer to this issue of differentiation that most firms plump for is to differentiate on client service – which makes perfect sense. It’s not what we do for you, but how we do it is the refrain. Moreover, that logic is strengthened because clients are often unable to judge technical as opposed to service quality in legal services.
All too often, however, such differentiation fails to permeate beyond what increasingly feels like an industry-wide vocabulary of marketing platitudes. Typically, “We provide straightforward advice using clear and simple language”, “we are approachable and down to earth”, “we understand each client is unique”, and “we provide a traditional personal service tailored to your needs.”
How then to avoid the irony of a homogenous solution when it comes to the challenge of differentiation?
At one level, the actual design of a firm can offer a structural solution in the form of specialisation. Suppose you throw off the generality of a full-service offering and instead position yourselves as specialists in a legal discipline or a market segment. In that case, you deliver a clear and powerful message to prospective clients. A specialist, after all, is the closest of relations to an expert.
A firm can dial this up or down as they see fit. They can be property specialists or commercial property specialists, or commercial property litigation specialists. The tighter the definition, the stronger the differentiation – accepting, of course, that the trade-off is the ability to provide a complete solution for a client.
Perhaps the most important dimension of differentiation, though, irrespective of the shape of a firm, is trust. Trust is, without doubt, the holy grail in law firm characteristics. All other virtues flow from this central tenet. In large part, this is because, as already mentioned, clients have little or no understanding of the legal tools you wield on their behalf to achieve their desired outcome or of the process they have asked you to guide them through.
If your website design is then fresh and imaginative, and if it keenly anticipates the hierarchy of your prospective clients’ needs, it builds trust.
If your colleagues engaging with clients, especially prospective clients, have the requisite empathy and reassuring confidence and charm, that starts to build a trusted engagement. Understated professionalism is the gold relationship standard that all law firms should covet.
Once engaged, if your communication with a client is flexible enough to match their particular requirements, then clients will instinctively relax because their experience is empathetic, and their view of the matter is gilded by the levels of trust they feel in you and your firm.
Away from form and style of communication, do the processes you have in place mean context and next steps are repeatedly flagged? Are you and your staff anticipating and refining your understanding of the pressures on your client? How do you deliver bad news? The transaction has fallen through, the will or claim is contested, the medical report is equivocal? Each of these steps are trust points. Do they enhance or detract from the confidence you inspire?
A relentless focus on trust is the design principle that will sow the seeds of success in any new law firm. A trusting client is typically more rewarding, easier to service, and the catalyst for future referrals, which are also the strongest source of new clients with the lowest cost of sale.