People Are People.

The Future of…..Legal Services
– by Ed Fitzgerald, Head of Brand and Marketing Services, RPC

The key, everyone seemed to be saying, is differentiation. Hardly a lightbulb moment for those marketeers gathered at the first Law Firm Marketing Summit held last month, but certainly something that should be exercising the minds more of those at board level in law firms. After all, without differentiation, against what metrics do people buy legal services? Expertise? Maybe, but if you’ve got one expert in IP there are 50 more down the road at your competitors. Global coverage? Perhaps, but which top law firm these days wouldn’t argue it had access to the best lawyers all over the world? Commercial understanding? Quite possibly, but few and far between will be the law firm which doesn’t stake a claim to properly understand its clients’ businesses. So when all the traditional planes on which a law firm markets itself have become, well, so equal, how really do you stand apart from the competition and give the buyers of your service not only something that is truly different but that is also unique to you?
 
Before we answer that, let’s pick up that point on sameness.
 
In the delivery of legal services – indeed, in any industry – as soon as you get competition for similar services by people with broadly similar skillsets delivered to a similar level of quality you get commoditisation – they all become like so many hygiene factors. And as soon as you get commoditisation then, if you don’t have a point of difference, the only way you can compete is on price which inevitably results in a race to the bottom.
 
At the Summit, Jaap Bosman argued in his presentation, and in his book “Death of a Law Firm”, that commoditisation is the most disruptive phenomenon in the legal market. I’m not sure I agree, but it’s certainly one of a number of pressures bearing down on the sector which are forcing law firm leaders to interrogate their strategies and re-evaluate their people and client propositions. And it’s within this context that the value of having a clearly defined, authentic and differentiated brand really comes to the fore. For law firms and law firm partners who want to continue riding the wave of 30%, 40% and 50% margins, where all else is equal you have to give your clients a reason to buy on something other than price.
 
Now, in a market which delivers its services by people to people, and where significant value is embedded in long-term relationships – on the part of both clients and advisers – the way that your people represent the brand is fundamental. Every firm will have its own particular culture, its own personality, its own feel and, more often than not, clients will buy a firm based on the human experience of working within that environment. In that context, building a brand from the inside out, with a people-first approach, represents a huge opportunity in the journey towards communicating genuine uniqueness. Uniqueness and, importantly, authenticity. And it’s towards identifying and nurturing those two pillars that I would argue significant attention should turn for law firm leaders.
 
As someone at the Summit said: “Marketing is the tax you pay for being an unremarkable business”; so if you want to lower your tax bill then the value of investing in achieving true and lasting differentiation is not to be underestimated. 
 
– with thanks to the author, Ed Fitzgerald, Head of Brand and Marketing Services at RPC