Guest post by Kristien Vermoesen.
Many managing partners at business law firms today are faced with the difficult question of how to market their firm effectively. After all, most top tier firms offer the same range of services, at more or less the same internationally accepted price points. The in house talent is perceived as superior to that of competing law firms, but then again marketing is not always about delivering superior quality. It is about convincing prospects and clients of the superior quality that is on offer.
On top of that, the business law firm market has been in a state of constant turmoil over the last two decades. Partners have moved in and out of firms, started new firms with old rivals, merged firms with up and coming players. One could forgive clients who think that there shouldn’t be too much different between law firms.
Unfortunately they would be strengthened in this belief when taking a look at the majority of the marketing communication of business law firms. Most, if not all of them try to differentiate themselves on these client benefits (opzoeken):
- “technical” know how
- business acumen
- full service
The overall tone of lawyer marketing communication, either as a result of a clear strategy or the lack of a real strategy, is subdued and careful, as if the foremost principle guiding the communication was: thou shalt not offend.
Sadly little or no differentiation is actually taking place. For the prospect, all these firms look alike. Choosing a law firm (or, on the other end of the spectrum, promoting the law firm) becomes a game of networking, of knowing the right players. In the end, it may happen that a large corporation chooses Firm A for their litigation, Firm B for a merger deal and yet another Firm C for handling their IP.
For the managing partner interested in cross selling services of different departments, this is the fundamental dilemma he is faced with. On the one hand, he wishes all of his partners to enjoy an excellent reputation as a lawyer and a healthy dose of commercial flair. On the other hand, he can feel the vulnerability of the firm in having to rely on the reputation of individuals. Individuals who might decide to join another firm, or start their own firm.
The effects of this lack of clear positioning has far reaching effects on the other type of “clients” that law firms depend on for their sustainability: recruits. A young lawyer will choose a firm on the basis of his specialty, and the name of an individual partner who enjoys a solid reputation in this chosen specialty. Again, the firm is vulnerable here. It will prove impossible to retain top talent if young recruits choose to work for a particular partner rather than a firm, a “brand”.
Kristien Vermoesen runs her own marketing and PR firm, FINN, specialized in professional services firms.