Calling all Law Firm Shoppers

Kudos to Jonathan Fitzgarrald and the Legal Marketing Association-Los Angeles Chapter for putting on a great program: Marketing the Law Firm From the Perspective of a Retailer, featuring Barry Feinberg (a former big-law lawyer himself).

In my opinion, these are the best programs and provide the most value to me.

While it’s great to know how other law firms handle X, Y or Z issue, I get INSPIRED by how other industries handle a business/marketing situation and how can I interpret that for the legal industry. And I was immediately intrigued as to how the speaker would connect marketing a law firm with retailing.

Let’s face it. Lawyers HATE thinking of themselves as sales people. They’re REALLY not going to like being compared to retailers.

But, here I go …

Lawyers and retailers have an important commonality: Both lawyers and retailers sell to an end market consumer.

And, when selling, retailers market to their highest margin product? That’s where they’re going to make the most money and bring people in the door.

It makes sense that law firms pretty much do the same. Skadden, for instance, is known for their litigation and M&A practices, but did you know about their gaming or public policy practices?

In our current economic “season,” for law firms in general, premium practices have included employment law and bankruptcy. At other times, it’s been the M&A and IP practices. Class action defense is becoming hot again as the economy recovers. But there are all the other products (practices) that need to be sold and marketed alongside the premium work a law firm is known for in the marketplace.

Something we need to learn to do better is how do we remain flexible enough to switch out our products with the “seasons” without throwing the less valuable practices (lawyers) away. 

In addition to marketing our premium products, for lawyers and retailers alike, the end game is also the same: How do we get the client/customer to part with his hard in dollar and give their business to us over our competitor?

The key to all of this is that we need to provide (sell) something of value. But it gets tricky here because we need to figure out what value means to the client.

I know this is a hard concept for a lot of lawyers to grasp, but the value of a lawyer’s services is not determined by the attorney (or the legal marketer); the value is perceived by the client.

And THIS is where we get down to work. The VALUE of the work is what differentiates one law firm or lawyer from another.

So, what is value??

According to Mr. Feinberg, value is the balance between Price (P) and the Utility (U), the worth, of the service.

VALUE is the balance between PRICE and UTILITY

A lot of these points don’t translate perfectly to lawyers and law firms, but here’s my go at it:

  • Ambiance: Office tower. Furnishings. View. The overall “experience” of working with your law firm and/or attorney.
  • Convenience: Locations. Technology. Different practices. Extranets.
  • Service: Return phone calls. Partner availability. Staffing. eBillings. CLE.
  • Status: CYA for “bet the farm” cases. Brand. AmLaw 100. Chambers and other rankings.
  • Risk: Alternative fee arrangements. Shared risk. Contingency fees.

It is on these points that we differentiate ourselves from our competition. Price is part of the equation, but it is a weighted commodity. Before the recession, we legal marketers were taught not to sell on price. In fact, there are lots and lots of consultants out there continuing to tell us to not sell on price.

When the economic down turn took place, price was given a prominent place at the table, consultants be damned.

As you go about planning 2011, and projecting for 2012, start to think in terms of the value of your services to your clients.

  • What value does my client place on my knowledge of X?
  • What value does my client place on my ability to accomplish Y in a timely fashion??
  • Does my firm’s having Z number of offices weigh in on their choices??
  • Is this practice a premium for my client, or is it a secondary or a value-added practice?
  • How do my rates measure up to the value of my services?
  • What services/products do I need to offer my clients to improve my value?

As the economy recovers, I will argue that price will remain a consideration and a weighted factor in differentiating a lawyer and law firm from its competition. How much weight it will be given will depend on many factors, none of which are really determined by you, but by the client.

Just keep this in mind: In a post-recession economy, clients most likely now have experience working with small, boutique or regional firms and are confident that they can do the job just as well as their previous, and much more expensive, counsel.

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