Warning: Being a fungible billing unit is bad for growing your law practice!
I’ve written previously on finding your Unique Service Proposition, which distinguishes you from other lawyers (and non-lawyers) serving your ideal clients’ legal needs. In that article, I noted that if you are one of a pool of fungible practitioners, you’ll be forced to rely on other ways of distinguishing your practice—including, perhaps, competing on price.
In today’s cost-conscious environment, many lawyers feel that they must compete on price. (Note that this issue applies to all lawyers, regardless of the size of firm of sophistication of practice.) No savvy client will pay an undeserved premium, and clients seem to hold the advantage in hiring lawyers these days. But competing on price is not the only option.
Other lawyers struggle to find a reason why a potential client should choose them over someone else. Personal connections make a difference, and many lawyers feel most skilled in landing business after a face-to-face consultation. But getting to that point may seem daunting.
When it comes to marketing, if you feel like you’re just one of a large number of fungible billing units, you’ll have trouble standing out from your competitors in a way that will be appealing to potential clients.
The common thread? The belief, All of the lawyers in my practice area are the same.
At first blush, this may be true. You most likely have the same education and similar experience (though the depth of that experience may differ), and most lawyers would say that they are strategic, good listeners, responsive, and smart. Fair enough.
Your task is to dig deeper and find what sets you apart from others in your practice so that your potential clients and referral sources know what makes you the best lawyer for their specific needs. Without a clear point of differentiation, you are simply one of many fungible lawyers, which makes your business development job more difficult.
When searching for what makes you different, consider these examples:
- Does (or should) your practice focus on some subset of clients or issues? For example, you might be an employment attorney who focuses on the food service industry.
- Do you have previous experience or education that is particularly relevant to your practice? For example, if you do white collar defense and you previously prosecuted such cases with the Department of Justice, that insight will distinguish you from other defense attorneys.
- Do you approach your cases in an unusual way? For example, you might offer a collaborative approach. In some practice areas, flat fee billing or a retainer engagement would be a distinctive form of practice.
- What skills or resources do you have that benefit your clients? Consider fluency in a foreign language, a wide network of advisors and service providers you can refer to your clients, or a familiarity with a foreign legal system that’s relevant to your practice.
When you determine what sets you apart from others who practice in the area of law that you do, you lay the groundwork for business development activity that is both distinctive and appealing. But remember: the touchstone of these points of distinction must be usefulness to your clients. You should not market based on your skill in rock-climbing, because it will not benefit clients—unless you have a niche practice in representing individuals who suffered injury on rock climbs and now seek to sue an expedition leader.
Questions for you to consider today: What sets you apart in a way that your clients value? How can you capitalize on that attribute or experience in your marketing?