Home Articles ‘Throwing the book’ at the legal profession! Part 3

‘Throwing the book’ at the legal profession! Part 3


In this three-part series, contributing authors Gene Stark and Jeremy Samuel ponder why law firms aren’t better at marketing themselves. This third and final instalment explores the power of simplicity in communicating a message.

Also in this series:
‘Throwing the book’ at the legal profession (Part 1)
‘Throwing the book’ at the legal profession (Part 2)

Simplicity – Your competitive advantage in raising the bar!

Why don’t any of our top-tier law firms promise to explain the law in layman’s English? Wouldn’t that be nice in our age of information overload, stress and time scarcity?

No matter how complex the product or service is, the simpler you can make the customer communication, the more your professional services firm can benefit! Check out www.maxsuper.com.au for inspiration and ideas on how to turn a traditionally “boring and complicated” industry segment laden with jargon into simple fun that sells!

Edward De Bono, the father of ‘Lateral Thinking’, rightly suggests that simplicity is a crucial competitive advantage. The world’s top brands have forever practiced these principles of focus and simplicity, while many products and services are still trying to do everything and be everything to everybody. The result is mediocrity.

“Simplicity is easy to use but can be hard to design. You may need some creativity…. An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgments simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore” Simplicity – Edward de Bono, 1998

Why don’t any of the firms say “we know more than anyone about all the legal aspects of mining and exploration and you would be crazy not to use us if you want to dig things up”?

It seems that the closer one gets to clients – real people, not people who spend other people’s money, acting and thinking on behalf of companies – the clearer their positioning and point of difference.

One such example is Maurice Blackburn, a firm that targets consumers. It does so with some personality and simplicity, both in the television commercials as well as on its website, breaking out of the boring mould their corporate cousins have adopted.

Even some of the small suburban firms have done interesting things with their branding – from the catchy name that has meaning and lends itself to a campaignable creative theme (www.amicuslaw.com.au) through to one that focuses on the actual brand experience (www.lawtoyourdoor.com.au), delivers value to busy small businesses by coming to them (a point of difference that is actually valued by their target market).

Middletons was the only top-tier law firm that we found that had a great positioning statement, yet they also failed to capitalise on it throughout their website, with the brand messages being limited to their banner on the home page.

So, what could the big commercial law firms do better to create standout brands rather than just tinker with their logos and shades of blue? (Warning – if what follows sounds like a marketing tutorial, it is only because it seems to be precisely what these firms and their agencies are not doing now.)

First of all, the firms need to work out what it is about them that is really unique and different. A hint here – they all hire really smart people, train them well and keep them updated and they are all “full service”… so how does that help a client?

What may make a firm (or practice group) unique is if it wrote the legislation for the changes to copyright law for the government and has deep experience in advising online publishers on exactly how far the fair use provisions extend. Then the challenge becomes working out how a collection of these types of deep experiences or specialities roll up into something unique for a full service firm (if at all).

Now where is the evidence, proof or, in advertising terms, “reason to believe”?

Why aren’t the same strict principles of supporting evidence applied by the legal firms when it comes to their own promotional efforts? While every firm promises quality and excellence, it is certainly not an area where any one player can get a competitive advantage over another. In fact, if anything, there is a great chance of over-promising and under-delivering.

Quality of service is not something that you can prove to the prospect before they enlist your services… or is it? We wouldn’t recommend drawing the lines for the battle of the minds of prospects in the legal industry around quality. However, for the purpose of illustrating how this can be done, consider this: for a litigation department, for example, it might be, “We win 93 percent of the cases we run in pollution mitigation,” or “In 10 years, not a single one of our software licenses has ever been unwound – we write the best licenses for vendors.”

Legal firms need to clearly articulate the outcomes that they brilliantly create for their core market. This is the combination of what their market values (quality) and their unique skills and abilities. One firm might create agreements that maximise flexibility for outsource providers. Another may deliver workplace agreements that keep workers on a tight lead or ensure that their clients pay the least possible amount of tax legally possible.

Once these desirable outcomes are defined, the firm can then start to distil a concise statement of their point of difference. This takes time and work and will cause discussion, argument and concern. It is also a good idea to test a number of these statements on existing clients and see what they think the firm delivers for them.

Finally, only when the point of difference is well articulated should firms focus on building their communication strategy. The good thing is, from where they are today, there is plenty of room for an early adopter to get the “first-mover advantage” and raise the bar for the rest of the players.

Gene Stark is the principal of Stark Reality a marketing consultancy that provides SMEs with simple, effective and accountable marketing solutions that increase their marketing R.O.I using brand communication disciplines and processes previously only affordable for large corporations.

Jeremy Samuel helps businesses and individuals generate greater profits through smart marketing, personal branding and social media. He is also the founder of Dads Flying Solo, a community and resource for single dads.