Monthly Archives: March 2011

Developing a USP

Differentiating A Law Firm Part 2

Trying to distinguish a law firm with the message “We are smarter, more experienced, do a better job, are tougher litigators” is a mistake as discussed in my earlier post Differentiating A Law Firm part 1.

To research this topic I read a number of websites.  One that stood out was Fishman’s. By discovering how he helped law firms in the USA to differentiate themselves, I was able to finalise my own thoughts for developing a USP (unique selling proposition) for Azrights.  Now we just need a suitable branding company to properly communicate and convey our USP.  Will write a blog about it once done.

So, what is effective law firm positioning?  Having deep expertise in a particular industry or niche is a successful differentiator because people prefer specialists over generalists.

Specialisation/Market segment


An example of focusing on a specific audience is the story of US firm:  Slaten Law.  A decade ago when they were a small 2 year old general practice they had a few clients in the pest control industry.  Fishman explains:  “This was a multi-billion industry that no law firm had targeted.  It offered a finite universe, where everyone went to the same conventions and read the same publication, Pest Control Today. The firm’s website was revised to feature crawling termites ….and bugs…”

Visiting the firm’s website today, it’s clear the firm has moved on. It has identified further markets, such as Dram Shops, Automotive, Nursing Homes, and therefore no longer uses a Pest Control focused website. But the firm’s experience illustrates how powerful it is to focus on narrow industry niches.  It is quite common to have several industry niches.

But what do you do to stand out when there are dozens of others targeting the same niche areas?  For example, small Intellectual Property law firms were quite rare a few years ago, but are now quite commonplace, as many practitioners have left larger firms and set up their own firms.  I’ve been concerned to learn how our niche IP firm can communicate its difference so as to stand out among other IP firms.  I’ve discovered that one way to do so is to focus on your unique message.

Differentiating by service:  exceeding client expectations

When differentiating the Chicago-based labour and employment firm Laner Muchin, Fishman focused on the message of “responsiveness.”  “Lack of responsiveness is among the biggest complaints clients express about law firms,” said Fishman.  “As I interviewed the partners, a recurring theme emerged – ‘We generally return all client phone calls within two hours.’  Bingo.  The firm’s message became ‘Two hours. Period.’”
Laner Muchin issued a challenge and used advertising to push this challenge to non-client prospects (a group that was more likely to be dissatisfied by their existing lawyers’ lack of responsiveness):  “Call your current lawyer and leave a message to return your call.  Wait an hour or two (to give your lawyer a decent head start), then call one of our lawyers and leave the same message.  See who calls you back first.  We’re betting it’ll be us.  If it’s not, we’ll buy you lunch and donate $100 to your favourite charity.”

“It was a win/win proposition,” said Fishman.  “When we won the challenge, we made a strong positive impression on someone in a position to hire us.  On those rare occasions when we lost the challenge, our punishment was a lunch date with a potential client!”

Learning from John Lewis and Domino’s USPs

The specific differentiating message Laner Muchin adopted is – “Two Hours. Period”.  Other firms who also want to exceed client expectations (as many commonly do judging by the number of websites I’ve come across that say this) need to differentiate around their own unique message, rather than copying another firm’s USP.  The message needs to reflect the way they do business, while being sufficiently important to their ideal clients to help sway the decision to hire the firm.

This is where self analysis helps.  Often firms are only able to discover a USP by engaging marketing experts to question staff,  partners, clients and former clients.  That can get rather expensive.

It’s surprising that none of the larger law firms have yet developed unique and memorable USPs given the power of a strong USP.  For example, consider John Lewis’ strap line, Never Knowingly Undersold.  It reassures people that if they shop at John Lewis they will get good quality products at a fair price.

A USP answers the question “why should I do business with you over all the other options available to me?” Domino Pizza’s answer is:

You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less — or it’s free.”

According to Small Business Marketing blog this USP was a mark of genius when first introduced. The concept of a fast delivery service was not commonplace in the pizza business then. Notice how all these USPs have a guarantee wrapped into them.

Working with High Net Worth individuals

Ayesha Vardag is an example of a UK solicitor who differentiates her firm by subject (family law) and also by targetting a certain segment of the market – namely, high net worth individuals.

In the early days of her law firm, now Vardag Solicitors we happened to be in the same networking group.  The group met weekly, and the two of us had lunch a few times.  I am not at all surprised by her subsequent success, in managing to represent clients such as Radmacher in the recent ground breaking pre-nups case. She was cystal clear about her target clients, and sacrificed by not taking on lower end work.  Her background at the bar had given her a taste for big ticket cases, and she gradually developed a strategy for securing high net worth clients who were likely to be litigating sums involving millions of pounds.

What is not differentiating

I asked for suggestions of effective law firm differentiation on Linked In.  Quanticks solicitors who have become paperless and Setfords Solicitors who employ a “unique consultancy model” were two firms put forward.

In my humble opinion neither of these are differentiators for a law firm.  It is quite commonplace to be paperless and to use self employed consultants working remotely.  Azrights is both, but these are insufficient to make us stand out.

In a conversation with Julian Summerhayes on Twitter, he remarked that it can be a differentiator for a law firm to engage in social media.  My own view is that if it is a differentiator now, it won’t be for long.  More and more law firms are beginning to have a presence on Twitter and Facebook, so how can any of them claim to be distinctive by that mere fact?

Road map road-map-pic1

Business is no different to any other area of life.  If you know where you want to get to and have a road map to help you reach your destination, then you have a good chance of succeeding.  For law firms to have a road map involves differentiating themselves and having a USP.

Most law firms don’t generally know what they want, and if they know what they want, they have no clear plan for getting there.  With the impending regulatory changes it is critically important for law firms to clarify their positioning.

In my final blog post on law firm differentiation I will discuss the impact that regulatory changes brought about by the Legal Services Act might have on law firms.

Differentiating a Law Firm

This is the first of 3 blog posts on law firm differentiation. With deregulation arriving in October 2011 it will become even more important for law firms to be positioned effectively. As a law firm owner, I’ve struggled with this topic, and hope to gain increasing clarity by writing about it. I’m also interested in the subject of branding from my perspective as a trade mark lawyer.

Differentiating a Law Firm

istock_000006773575largeThe key to success in any business, and law is a business like any other, is to differentiate a firm from the many others offering similar services. Your differentiating proposition effectively says to consumers that buying from you will give them a specific benefit.This benefit must be unique to you, and be powerful enough to move the buyer to choose you.

Where there is insufficient differentiation between firms the client’s choice is more likely to come down to price. With effective positioning, and a strong USP (unique selling proposition), buyers may be led to believe there is simply no substitute for your service. So, if, for example, you are the ‘go to’ expert on iPhone Apps, then anyone needing advice in this area would be more likely to choose your firm.

However, the fact that so many firms are getting their differentiating strategy wrong is a clear sign that it is not easy to differentiate a law practice in these desirable ways.

Why is it difficult to differentiate?

To stand out as different to other law firms offering similar services, involves narrowing your focus so you market to a specific niche rather than to everyone. However, to do so you first need to work out whether there is sufficient market need within a niche area to justify your focussing on that area. You also have to be willing to sacrifice work in order to better target your ideal client.

Specialising in a specific subject area of the law is a differentiator, but the narrower you go the more likely you are to stand out among other firms who focus on the same general area. Paradoxically, narrowing your focus in order to acquire depth of expertise, and fully understand buyers’ concerns, and the industry, is also likely to attract work in your broader subject area.

While some firms may be tempted to call in marketing experts to help them arrive at a differentiating position, my own view is that law firms know their own business better than anyone else. So, if they take time to do research, and work out their own answers and solutions in the first instance they will get more value from marketing specialists once they engage them.

The problem: using generic messages

The sort of differentiating position which is ineffective is well explained by Ross Fishman, an attorney in this example of a message by the typical law firm:

Our firm is big/small and old and has a distinguished history. We offer the technical skills of a large firm and the collegial culture of a small firm.  Our lawyers work as a team.  We are efficient, service-oriented and we partner with our clients.  We are very community-service oriented.

We represent absolutely everyone, from individuals to international corporations, in every conceivable area of the law – from ADR to Zoning. We are the best in every single one of these areas.  Here are 24 pages of alphabetical descriptions of every practice area.

Our message is illustrated with photos of our city skyline, our building, our lobby and/or conference room, a group of diverse lawyers staring seriously at the camera with law books in the background, and area courthouses – especially their columns and their front steps.

Our graphics include chessboards (“We are strategic”); light bulbs (“We have good ideas”); handshakes (“We partner with clients”); globes and maps (“We are national or global”); laptops (“We are high-tech”); and gavels and scales of justice (“We are – big surprise – lawyers”).

What is differentiation? Some pointers

A book worth consulting to better understand marketing and branding is Differentiate or Die – Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition by Jack Trout. Another useful book is Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout. These and other books, and more information appears on a branding site I stumbled upon

Working out how to position your firm involves a lot of introspection as you try to determine how you are distinct or unique. Is there something about your world view or the way you do business? Will feedback your clients have given you about the firm hold the key to your USP? Do you have industry expertise which could form the basis of your positioning messages?

If it all sounds very theoretical it certainly feels it. But gradually by reviewing the books to better understand differentiation you do begin to arrive at ideas for simple ideas that encapsulate your point of difference. Getting the help of a good marketing consultant is, in my view, essential to complete the process of identifying whether your ideas are capable of standing for something that will endure, and if so, how best to convey them in a short, clear and easy to understand marketing proposition.

In the next blog piece (available here), I’m going to begin with a few examples of law firm differentiation that seem effective, and consider how these might help differentiate our firms.