Trends exist for nearly every profession. Capitalizing on those trends requires differentiation from competitors – regardless of whether trends indicate market movement up, down or sideways. Every market shift drives the need for continuous honing of how your firm is different and more valuable than competitors.
Divergent Market Indicators
The following sampling of legal industry studies indicates contradictory trends. But with this contradiction comes both opportunity and necessity to capture and retain market share.
Consulting firm Hildebrant Baker Robbins declares the first cut in corporate legal spending in 10 years in its 2010 Law Department Survey. While a 1 percent decrease in some industries may not seem significant, the results are causing a stir in the legal community. The previous nine annual surveys revealed 5 percent to 9 percent increases annually in law department spending.
Also out this month are results from the 2010 Fulbright & Jaworski Litigation Trends Survey. In the survey, U.S. corporate counsel foresee the continuation of an “upward trend in litigation” that began with the economic downturn. Ninety-three percent of U.S. respondents expect legal disputes to increase or remain the same in 2011.
According to the study, “nearly one-third of U.S. respondents cite stricter regulation as a major concern. More regulators have been investigating a greater variety of companies, from small to large and across sectors-particularly banking, health care and energy.”
Differentiation Is Key
These trends seemingly represent divergent market shifts. One shows opportunity abounds for litigation services. The other shows a significant cost-cutting movement by in-house counsel and requires a strategy to preserve client engagement until the economy improves.
To help decipher these trends, I turned to market researcher William Lowell of Business Development Directives. Based on his work with hundreds of law firms across the country, I asked him to share some of his methods for taking advantage of trend data.
Lowell recommends every firm conduct an annual market audit focused on identifying the areas of the firm with the most growth potential and how these areas can leverage shifts in the marketplace.
“An audit not only uncovers what to tell clients and where to deliver that message,” Lowell says, “but it will also help you fine-tune that message directly to client needs.”
After the audit, firms have a solid foundation on which to construct a consistent and compelling message. But what Lowell finds with most firms is the incorrect assumption that everyone in the firm already knows how to represent the firm in every situation.
A quick way to determine if brand ambassadors (senior partners, associates and even the mail clerk) understand what truly makes your firm unique can be achieved simply by asking what makes your firm or practice different and valuable to clients. Bring in five associates in a room, one at a time. Ask each associate if they were at a party and someone asked about your employer, what would each say.
“The majority of the time, I will get five different answers from the five different associates,” Lowell says. “More importantly, they would probably simply answer the question with the firm name and not take the opportunity to speak the virtues of the firm.”
Believe it or not, each and every employee working for your firm is in a position to win new business for the firm. Without proper and ongoing training on how to present the firm in any situation, the firm’s new business development efforts remain underdeveloped.
Whatever the trend – good, bad or indifferent – firms must present a consistent message based on what truly differentiates a firm from the competition and how being different benefits the client in terms of value received. Stark differences and benefits from competitors make prospective client decisions easier and improve their willingness to pay more for the advantage and privilege of working with you. But for this to work, everyone in your firm must be singing from the same song book.