It’s good to be different: how law firms stay competitive

So you know about how overcrowded the legal market is and that competition is fiercer than ever.

This is rather daunting for a lot of firms. Personally, I believe that the changes the market is going through makes the legal industry an exciting place to be. The business of law is moving fast as entrepreneurs and innovators enter the arena. We are seeing new players, different business models and a new generation of lawyers developing against the backdrop of a cutting-edge technological revolution.

But the problem is that all firms pretty much do the same thing, so what makes a client choose one firm over another when there are quite literally thousands of providers of the same service?

Sometimes it will come down to charges as one firm will offer a better quote than its rival and clients will go for the best bargain. However, firms are increasingly trying to actively distinguish themselves from competitors so that clients choose them for the right reasons. Here are my observations on how firms are trying to show clients what sets them apart.  

Experience 

Firms are shouting about the types of matters they deal with which are particularly complex. For example corporate practices will parade their high value deals and the household name clients they work for. Involvement in reported cases and ground-breaking developments in the law also illustrate the expertise of a firm’s fee-earners. During my family seat at Hanne & Co I assisted in a high-profile international child abduction case that went to the Court of Appeal and was reported due to its importance and complexity. A future candidate with an interest in family law may apply to the firm because of the unique opportunity for exposure to similarly complex cases and a niche area of law. 

When applying to a firm think about a unique piece of work they have done and what was particularly difficult about it- this is a good talking point in interview. What does the work show about the firm and its lawyers? Think about how it makes the firm better than its competitors and how this can be sold to prospective clients. 

Adding value 

For a firm to be successful requires much more than knowledge of the black-letter law. That’s why firms try to ‘add value’ e.g. give extra to help clients. From what I have seen in practice, adding value means giving a client commercially focused solutions with the least cost and risk. For example, the law may prescribe a straightforward answer to a legal question which a client may be unhappy with. Adding value would involve suggesting alternative methods or creative ways around the problem so that the client can still achieve its aims. Is there a faster or more innovative way a problem can be approached? Is there a loophole or quick way around? In a nutshell, adding value is not about vomiting a statute book to a client – it’s about making proactive and pre-emptive suggestions and thinking outside the box. 

sehaj
Sehaj Lamba

Added value comes from industry experience and as such firms will often speak about particular sectors they focus on so that clients know that a firm knows its clients and business well and can offered tailored advice. 

Firms are engaging directly with clients now more than ever to offer value- like a brand would engage with a consumer. Examples include building an exchange with clients through client webinars on legal topics, articles in trade press, speaking at conferences and sending legal updates so clients are up to date on what they need to know. 

The reason for such communications is to create competitiveness and build relationships. Clients do not instruct on the basis of technical ability of lawyers alone, as this is something pretty much any firm can offer. Showcasing expertise and offering added value is something firms do to really stand out and stick in the minds of their clients. 

Branding 

A brand is essentially a law firm’s persona – who it is, what is does and how it does it. Branding is a new concept for lawyers but the market is now completely consumer driven and hence image has never been more important. Firms are slowly getting into the habit of showing clients that they are distinct by developing their own brands. The way firms do this is by choosing their target clients, finding their unique selling point and then positioning themselves appropriately in the market. 

Lawyers today need to sell both themselves and their firms. They need to make sure they are seen by the clients they want to instruct them- whether this is through building conversation via social media or advertising. Firms need to be present in the minds of their target audiences and really invest in developing their brands and what it is they want to say about themselves. Branding is a concept that penetrates through a law firm’s logo, culture and staff. Firms with strong brands gain credibility and make clients more willing to instruct and pay higher. Branding is one of the most significant ways a firm can work to stand out from competitors. 

The legal market is experiencing challenging yet exciting changes and firms have the opportunity to differentiate themselves and thrive. You should be aware of the strategies that firms are developing to stay competitive and who their key competitors are. When approaching a firm think about what is unique about it and how you could benefit from whatever it is that truly sets it apart.

Sej Lamba is a trainee solicitor qualifying into the Corporate Commercial team at Barlow Robbins