How 'difference' can change the law

Doug Hewett, Aug 22,2016

Magic circle law firms have long benefitted from being part of an elite group, but as the legal industry goes through seismic shifts, it’s the law firms outside the magic circle stand to gain the most – if  they can differentiate themselves…

Rapid technological change, innovative new business models and changing client buying patterns are radically transforming the legal sector. Read the FT, Lawyer, or Raconteur and you’ll find articles about what the future law firm will look like – shifting from artisanal ‘profession’ to agile ‘business’, and everything in between.

But there’s a huge opportunity for innovative and forward thinking law firms right now – particularly in the mid-tier. In a sector with few genuine innovators or challenger brands, any firm that seriously invests in differentiating will stand out from the crowd and win big.

It’s about genuinely being different – a distinctive law firm that’s known for doing things a certain way, having a culture with a distinctive mindset, and owning a signature approach to client partnerships.

It’s the HOW you do things, not WHAT you do – both in terms of your client experience (a distinct experience founded on a differentiating customer proposition), and your employee experience (a ‘People Promise’ or deal that’s founded on ambition and based on the reality of today).

Because those outside the Magic Circle have an important strength – they aren’t defined by being part of that elite group. The challenge is to use that to your advantage – to create a stronger and more distinctive way, to reject the ‘sea-of-same’, and to own a clear positioning that makes you stand out from the crowd.

Here are three steps to becoming game-changing:

  1. Define what’s differentiating about your firm and use it as a compass

Build a clear focus that drives a specific way of thinking and doing – you could be famous for being the empathic equal, or focus on how your firm is driven by quality, but define a proposition and focus your entire firm behind it.

  1. Deliver a truly distinct client experience to drive preference and loyalty

 Use that clarity of focus to design a new customer journey with key signature moments that others in the sector can’t compete with – the way you do it, not just what you do. 

  1. Create a distinct internal culture to attract and retain the best

Make it all happen through your people – understand what your current culture is made of (its beliefs, values and behaviours) and then co-create the ideal culture to match your customer proposition. It’s an employee promise or EVP that is genuinely made by your people.

In summary – it’s a sea of same out there in legal – lots of talk but few brands are truly differentiating. There’s a big opportunity for mid-tier firms especially, who stand to benefit the most from disrupting the industry. But it’s not about branding in terms of image or identity – and that’s where so many law firm rebrands go wrong. It’s about clarity, and then landing differentiation with your employees and your clients at every touchpoint and interaction.