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Laffy Taffy or Hershey Kiss?

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Innovation is the cornerstone of our economy. Finding new ways to do things, unique things to sell and better ways to sell them—that’s what it’s all about. How does this apply to your law practice?

Just Like a Kid in a Candy Store

Well, just as any kid pondering the candy counter uses his own criteria to select a Tootsie Roll over a Butterfinger bar, a prospective client looks for the difference between your firm and the one down the street. If all candy had identical packaging, identical contents and an identical taste, choosing one would be (in addition to really boring) a random act at best.

And random, at best, is the way most law firms are selected. Because most do come packaged in identical wrappers, have identical contents and taste pretty much the same; a law firm client has to rely on some pretty minute and obscure characteristics to make a hiring choice.

I can hear you developing your argument now: “Not true! Our lawyers went to better schools. We office in an historic low-rise building, not a skyscraper. We use purple for our website, for goodness sake!” Alas, as it turns out, those are all features that mean little, if anything, to your client.

In the same way that a kid chooses his candy based on chewy versus crunchy, chocolate versus licorice, nutty versus creamy, your client wants you to think about his or her tastes and needs instead of your craving to conform.

So What Do Clients Want?

It’s always something different. Maybe she wants fast and easy answers. Maybe he’d like a stable, long-haul relationship. Perhaps they want access to a full range of services instead of one narrowly focused guru. Or a handcrafted document versus ready-made forms they can fill in on their own. Or vice versa. An online relationship versus continuous on-site access to “their” lawyer. Value billing. A hand to hold. Who knows the answer for a given individual or organization? (Hint: Try doing a little research!)

“Okay!” you say. “We’re working on that. We know we have to be different things for different clients.” Well, that’s not exactly the point. The point is, if a candy bar tried to be all things to all people, it would be unpalatable and end up being something no one wanted.

So focus in. Take a risk. Bust out of that old box of chocolates. Become a firm that is uniquely … something. Be extraordinary to a group of clients who want exactly what you’ve got. Patterning your practice after every other firm won’t get you to the next step. Think differently. Create something unique. It’s what they want.

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She was a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, President of the College of Law Practice Management, Editor in Chief of the ABA Law Practice magazine and an LMA Hall of Fame inductee. She blogs about innovation at

Note: This post was inspired by one of Merrilyn’s own editor’s notes in a past issue of Law Practice Management magazine.

Illustration ©Thinkstock.

Categories: Client Service, Communications Skills, Daily Dispatch, Innovation
Originally published August 24, 2011
Last updated February 18, 2019
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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