And which do your clients prefer? Can your clients or prospective clients determine which you are? Do they care?

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has an entertaining piece on Attorney at Work that talks about clients being like kids in a candy store. If all candy looked and tasted alike, like law firms, how is a poor kid (or prospective client) able to make a choice. It would just be random.

As Merrilyn points out, all firms say they have the best lawyers, who went to the best schools, and the firm has the best offices this side of Mars "in an historic low-rise building" instead of a skyscraper. All that means very little to a client as it turns out. I’m sure she would agree, what clients want is a lawyer who has the experience to solve their personal or business problem. In other words, the client is not interested in a lawyer/law firm that looks and tastes like every other one.

Every client’s wants and needs are different, of course, and they want a law firm that solves their problem. So, a firm needs to clearly articulate their experience, so that the client is capable of making an informed choice on who can take care of their problem, not everyone else in the world’s problems.

So, it is important that law firms take a risk. No firm can be all things to all people. Merrilyn advises "[t]hink differently. Create something unique. It’s what they want."

Don’t be like a candy bar that looks tastes like all the others.

This is a similar theme to my post last week about not abandoning your niche in a down economy. It is related in the sense that by turning down work that you do not want, don’t usually handled, and is outside your niche is the right move – at any time – but especially now.

Fellow blogger Bruce Allen over at Marketing Catalyst in a post a couple of days ago makes the point that your marketing can be more profitable in the long run by turning down work that is:

  • Less profitable and desirable
  • Distracts you from spending time with your best clients
  • Causes you to procrastinate and not put forth your best effort
  • Resulting in creating your own “negative referral network”

He sums it up best:

“Even when we feel the desire to panic our best action is to focus even harder on what we do best and turn down anything and everything outside that envelope. That is where profit lives and our success is ensured.”

Makes pretty good sense to me.

It is very tempting to take whatever legal business comes over the transom in a down economy. Heck, if the firm’s normal business is slow, some lawyers might be tempted to take whatever work comes along. Wrong!

It is the worst time to start diluting your brand. Better to crank up the marketing to get more visibility in the industry or practice area you are known for. Otherwise, it will take longer and cost more to restore your niche when things start turning around.

Sara Holtz agrees in her post “Don’t be tempted to abandon your niche” on her Women Rainmakers bLAWg. According to Sara, if you broaden your marketing efforts because times are tough, it will hurt you in several ways:

  • Diffuses your message
  • Spreads your resources thinner, and
  • Just creates more competition in the broader marketplace.

It is smarter to stick with your niche strategy, rather than diluting it just because the economy is down.

Can’t imagine anyone arguing with the statement that lawyers are happiest when they are doing the work they enjoy for clients they like. Although I have covered this topic more than a half-dozen times, it is worth mentioning again. Especially when you run across a succinct article that emphasizes the point so well.

Chuck Newton’s Ride The Third Wave blog has such an article about chasing cases and clients you don’t want. His point is that when you are working on cases you dislike, you’re missing opportunities to develop the business you do. Your attention is diverted, and you won’t do as well taking those “skanky cases” (I was sure he made the word "skanky" up, but lo and behold, one definition of it is “arousing aversion” which pretty much sums it up). He concludes:

“It is really a self-fulfilling prophesy.  You chase the other cases and clients because you are worried about not succeeding with the cases and clients you want, and as a result you do not succeed because you have diverted your attention and divided your efforts.


“So, stay focused. Niche it.”

Thanks, Chuck.

Bruce Allen has an intriguing post at Marketing Catalyst about restaurants in troubled times, and how one chef comes to the rescue.  We both believe there are valuable lessons in his story for law firms. Although Bruce brings up the tale in the context of a down economy, I believe the lesson is just as applicable whatever the state of the marketplace.

He mentions how Scottish Chef Gordon Ramsey on his TV show Kitchen Nightmares works at turning around failing restaurants. Bruce surmises that the establishments are failing because of “two key issues”:

  • There are too many items on the menu, and
  • The restaurant is not known as “the best place to go for ____.”

Now think law firm. Think brand.

No law firm is totally a one-stop shop. In fact, in most firms it is best to not even try. Due to the complexities associated with most legal areas today, a law firm – especially a medium to small firm – is better off limiting itself to niche practices. Not only will lawyers become more proficient in these areas of the law, but it’s easier and more efficient to focus the firm’s business development efforts on fewer practice areas.

Accordingly, law firms should consider reducing the size of their menu. It’s a good thing to be known for one or two niche areas, but, better to be recognized as “the best place to go for __________.”

Well, “secrets” may be a bit strong, since what makes small to medium size law firms successful isn’t exactly rocket science. Prosperous smaller firms have very successful lawyers who never practiced in BigLaw, as well as those who did, but left because they no longer cared for the environment or life style in larger firms.

So, what are the “secrets” that make smaller firms thrive?

There are many reasons, of course, but one article on the benefits of small firm practices by Zack Needles with The Legal Intelligencer that appears on this month’s’s Small Firm Business gives us clues as to what five Pennsylvania firms attribute their success to:

  • Niche practice within boutique firm;
  • Attracting talent with strong capabilities, and focusing on “exceptional service and competitive rates;”
  • Focusing on maintaining a high profile as “best marketing technique;” and
  • Developing “personal marketing plans” with individual lawyer budgets and accountability.

Seems fairly straight forward, and worth taking a look at.

Over the past week I have been covering four laws that can help you become the leading lawyer in your field. The series was inspired by Trey Ryder’s  newsletter where he wrote about the laws based on Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

The previous three posts addressed: 

Today we conclude with the Law of the Mind. Basically, it doesn’t matter if you are the leader or first in a category, if you are not first in the mind of your prospects it doesn’t matter if you were “first in the marketplace.”

The first mainframe computer to hit the market was UNIVAC built by Remington Rand. However, the perception is that IBM was the leader in that category. Also, Trey points out that three other actors played Perry Mason before Raymond Burr, but, I believe, it is recognized that Burr owns the category. 

I alluded to this point in my last post. That is, you can’t just be first in your niche area, you have to actively market that fact so you will be recognized as the leader in the mind of potential clients.
You may or may not be the “best” lawyer in your field, but you sure can be the most successful, if you actively apply the four laws of successful lawyer marketing.