"Now I can go after your clients and you can go after mine." That, in a nutshell, was the result of the Bates v. State Bar of Arizona lifting bans on attorney self-promotion back in 1977, according to marketing guru Bruce Marcus. Bates opened the door to competition, which Marcus succinctly describes as pursuing "the prospective client" even as other lawyers are pursuing the same client. At the same time, Marcus notes, competition means protecting your clients from being successfully wooed by other lawyers. Successful rainmaking and retention of clients, therefore, requires a competitive mindset. To come out on top, you'll need to understand the marketplace, your practice, and your competitors' practices, and strategize accordingly.
Get to Know the Market for Lawyers in Your Practice Area
What do you know about why people choose one lawyer over another in your practice area? Granted, some bases for hiring decisions are going to be hard to influence. If someone wants to retain her brother-in-law for a slip-and-fall case, you were probably never in the running. But it's important to identify factors important to the "persuadable" potential client. How sensitive is the general market for your services to price, billing, and fee structure? Maybe experience, reputation, or image is important. Will "branding," name recognition, and visibility through advertising do any good? How vital are word of mouth referrals? Understanding the motivations of potential clients when hiring in your practice area is the first step in gaining the competitive edge.
How Do You Stack Up?
In light of all the factors you identified as important to your target market's decision to hire, assess where you stand in relation to your competition.
Step one, obviously, is to know who your competition is and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Access to this information may be limited, but you can gather a considerable amount of information within the bounds of ethics, privilege, and privacy just through collegial conversations with your competitors in social situations like bar functions. Look at your competitors' websites and other marketing efforts. Find out what other people are saying about them, including in the press and on lawyer rating websites. In addition to the factors potential clients may be judging them on, find out what operational advantages or disadvantages they may be working with. For example, do they seem to have high employee turnover, suggesting inexperience in key roles? Or maybe they've developed proprietary software that gives them a decided technological advantage in providing services in your field.
The next step is to make an honest assessment of your own strengths and weaknesses. Where are there opportunities to market your relative strengths, and what can you do to shore up areas in which you are currently at a disadvantage?
Position Your Firm for Competitive Strength
With a good understanding of where you stack up against the competition, you can begin to concentrate on your marketing strategy. In general, there are four principal marketing positions for law firms:
- Product: Trumpeting a high level of legal expertise (the "product"), with less emphasis on customer service.
- Market: Targeting a particular market sector, defined by ethnicity, business type, geography, etc.
- Service: Emphasizing strong relationships and connection with clients, through accessibility, personalized attention, etc.
- Price: Low-cost services without frills, achievable through procedural and technological efficiency, or by a willingness to accept a lower fee.
By staking out one or more of these marketing positions and aligning your firm's vision and practice with it, you'll attract and keep clients, the clients you want and who value what you offer. And you'll always be competing from a position of strength.