Legal Business Blogs

Guest post: Why law firms need to be good at what they’re for

I’m currently preparing a webinar on getting and using feedback. It’s not a new subject – either to you or to me. Yet something suddenly struck me; something that is obviously true, but is normally lost in the torrent of data that feedback can produce. 

The aim of feedback is to enable you to be better.

  • The key thing is to decide where you need to be better. 
  • It’s not being better in the area that you care about most that matters, it is being better in the area which your clients really care about. 
  • By being better in this area – and increasing the distance in this area between you and your closest competitor (in your client’s eyes) – you keep the work flowing.

Who are you to your clients?

It’s because you can’t be everything to everyone that marketing matters. You need to focus in. Being global corporate lawyers precludes you being the lowest cost national firm doing the same work. Expert litigators form boutiques because conflicts of interest mean they cannot be part of a great corporate firm. The challenge of marketing is to identify a sufficiently large group of potential clients for whom your core differentiator would enable you to acquire and keep clients. 

This can sound like useless management-speak until you apply it to client feedback. You want to know how the clients rate you on the things they really care about, and discovering this requires more than a form to fill in; it requires a conversation. It requires you to ask the open question ‘so why do you choose to use our firm?’ For most lawyers, this question invokes fear: ‘What happens if the client suddenly realises they have a choice?’ or perhaps ‘The client would immediately sense insecurity and ask for a discount.’ I counter these concerns with a question ‘If these are your key clients – the ones who give you work most reliably – which is more risky: them telling you why they use you, or you not knowing?’

What do you offer to clients that others can’t? 

In fact there is an even more dangerous position most lawyers take. They presume they know the answer; usually citing excellent law, value for money and flawless client service. And it’s true. If you ask clients whether these things matter, the answer is ‘yes’. But even in a generic form – the areas for differentiation around management skill and understanding the client’s business offers far more scope for differentiation. However, beware. General intelligence is generally useless. The question you want an answer to is ‘what differentiates us from our competitors in our chosen market, and how do we ensure that this difference cannot be easily replicated?’

It is the difficulty in replication that enables a law firm to remain consistently profitable. For example low pricing is only a winner if you have the back-office leverage to differentiate and continue to differentiate by getting better at it. Otherwise you’re just less profitable. Similarly excellent client service cannot rely on the efforts of one lawyer – it must be embedded in the firm’s way of doing business.

So before embarking on a ‘feedback exercise’, talk to your clients to discover what they currently believe makes you special, then focus on these things. In this way you’ll not only get more clients who are similar, you’ll understand what your firm needs to work on to enhance its profitability.

You’ll be good at what you’re for.

Jamie Pennington’s consultancy, Pennington Hennessy, provides mentoring, coaching and training to law firms. You can read his blog here.