Legal business development: You’ve got to stand out.


All lawyers in any given practice area are a dime a dozen, right?
Think about your own area. Who stands out in your mind? It’s likely (assuming you’ve been in practice for a while) that you can identify at least a few lawyers who catch attention. Maybe it’s the divorce lawyer who’s known for high-profile divorces. Perhaps it’s the patent lawyer who’s created a curriculum to educate her clients on what to expect in the patenting process and what to be doing to maximize the chances of business success. Or it could be the litigator who’s known for baiting witnesses so effectively that fireworks always erupt.

Every lawyer has some skill, experience, attribute, or approach that distinguishes him or her from others. Those distinguishing factors demonstrate to your potential clients what makes you different and why they should hire you. Equally importantly, they also pave the way for you to market yourself in fresh ways.

The points of distinction that you highlight must be those that matter to your clients. If a client wouldn’t see the value in something that sets you apart from others, you’ve merely identified a distinction, not a real difference. You might have to connect the dots in some instances (for example, some clients might not immediately appreciate the benefit of a lawyer who draws on her background in tax law to support her clients’ licensing needs) but when explained the client must understand why that aspect offers an advantage.

When it comes to marketing, identifying a point of distinction will allow you to a marketing message that answers potential clients’ questions or concerns (some of which they may not even be aware of yet) by highlighting your relevant experience or skill. You are able to speak to something valuable that other lawyers can’t, and you immediately rise above the crowd.

To identify what sets you apart, ask yourself:

  1. What past experience (professional or personal) bears on your practice?
  2. What skill, knowledge, or experience do you bring to your practice that will be helpful for clients?
  3. What kind of practice-related opportunities can you forecast, and how can you position yourself to meet them?

If you’re practicing in a large firm, consider too the advantages that flow from having numerous colleagues in widely divergent practice areas. You may have a leading authority on speed dial, or you might be able to find a resource to meet a client’s need no matter the issue he’s facing. This is especially beneficial for newer lawyers who may not yet have the experience or reputation to stand on their own for marketing but who can market their firm quite effectively.

You might also consider how can you serve your clients in new or innovative ways. In addition to your primary services, for instance, perhaps you could offer ancillary services or products to offer a fuller solution to your clients’ needs. Are there free or reduced-fee services that you might offer as a way of introducing yourself and your skills to a class of potential clients or referral sources?

You might stand apart from others by offering a quarterly free Q&A meeting (ideally in person) during which you present must-know points and respond to potential clients’ questions about topics related to your practice area. For example, if you practice elder law, you might host a monthly gathering to help adult children learn what legal issues they should plan for as they assist their aging parents.  You could offer a fee-based group in which you cover key issues in more depth, and you might have certain forms or templates for sale that the adult children could use to implement your suggestions. Although some clients will get what they need from those free and low-cost offerings, others will want or need your help and will hire you.

If your practice spans geographic areas in such a way that you don’t often have an opportunity to meet face-to-face with your clients, look to technology to bridge the distance. Videoconferencing is one common approach that isn’t used as often as it probably should be. You could craft a marketing message around the personal service you offer and the importance of tailoring legal solutions to each individual (or business); weaving in your enhanced communication opportunities will set you apart from others who merely use the words but don’t actually deliver the value.

How might you create a different approach to client service? Consider these questions:

  1. How can I meet both legal and non-legal needs that my clients frequently present?
  2. How can I build innovative services that will benefit my clients?
  3. What might I do to answer potential client questions, introduce my clients to beneficial resources, or otherwise extend my services in unexpected ways?

Identifying your points of differentiation and using them to craft a marketing message requires analysis, insight, and sometimes even an intuitive leap. Hold a brainstorming session with the proviso that no answer is too wacky to be considered.  Sometimes impractical or unpalatable ideas provide the leap to a truly unique marketing message and practice. And don’t hesitate to seek help with this: sometimes outsider vision reveals what an insider will never see.

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