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Congratulations! Your law firm has a brand. In fact, maybe several. You may have no control over it, but when people hear your name and recognize it, they think … something. So the first question is whether you want to control your law firm brand, or allow your competitors and random market forces to define you. The former seems preferable.
Of course, you could attempt to brand each attorney (good luck with that). If you do, though, you won’t end up with any sort of coherent brand platform from which to market the firm—no clear image of why the firm is a safe choice or should be chosen over any of the myriad other options. You are merely a hotel for lawyers.
To be effective, your brand must be consistent with your firm culture and the actual business of your firm, attractive to the clients and prospects you want most, and as different from the brands of your major competitors as possible (brand differentiation). Do all that, and you have a position that’s worth something (brand equity).
Sit in a room with some smart lawyers and you can make up a brand. They’ll have fun doing it, and you are very likely to end up with a brand that satisfies none of the conditions above.
While it may seem a daunting task, developing and leveraging your law firm brand is a fairly simple process.
1. Gather and understand information. Study the past several years of your firm’s finances, interview 10 to 20 of your lawyers of various levels and practices regarding firm culture and strategy, and interview at least a dozen key clients from various practice groups. (You already have a client feedback program in place, right?) Then spend some time trying to figure out the brand platforms of your key competitors. You’ll have most of what you need to develop a real strategy. So far, the cost has been very little.
2. Learn from the marketplace. Now, if you can afford it, survey your marketplace via phone interviews using a set script. Ideally, you will survey buyers in 30 to 50 companies you’d love to have as clients. Without identifying your firm, ask how they select law firms and what they think of your firm and your key competitors. At first they’ll say they “engage lawyers, not law firms.” Keep pushing, and you’ll quickly get past that BS. They buy both. The relationship may be with the attorney, but the law firm makes the lawyer a safe choice and provides the infrastructure necessary to practice. If you can’t afford a survey, convene a focus group of clients (about three) and not-yet-clients (about nine) and ask the same questions. The other BS you will hear is that they are not at all influenced by “brands” or advertising. Again, keep pushing and you’ll get to their real opinions. (Believe me, it always proceeds this way.)
3. Build the message on what you’ve learned. Next, sit down with your team (including a few opinion-leading lawyers and a brand consultant if you can afford one) and decide what message your brand platform should convey. Work very hard to bang that down to the shortest effective brand statement you can manage, and present it to everyone in the firm, along with your supporting evidence as to why it is right for your firm. (Lawyers respect evidence.)
4. Communicate widely and consistently. You have to achieve buy-in because everyone is a brand ambassador, from the mailroom guy who coaches your client’s girls’ soccer team to your practice group leader at a United Way board meeting. Post it all over the firm. Express the brand in all you do—from your website to your pitches to your media releases to your ads to your event invitations to the script your receptionist uses answering the phone. Everything.
That is affordable by every firm. The ROI may be very subtle, but it will be real.
Mark T. Greene is Chief Business Development Officer of Waller in Nashville, TN. Since 1984, Mark has been one of the pioneers in legal marketing and business development, bringing the best practices of global corporations to the legal industry. He was inducted into the Legal Marketing Association’s Hall of Fame in 2008 and is a Fellow and Trustee of the College of Law Practice Management.
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