Growing younger law practices in 2023: Perceptions matter

Legal services, unlike the tech ecosystem, are a tricky sector when it comes to innovation of the 'service offer'.
Lawfinity Solutions - Prachi Shrivastava
Lawfinity Solutions - Prachi Shrivastava

Competing in a market as old as time is not for the faint-hearted. Legal services, unlike the tech ecosystem, are a tricky sector when it comes to innovation of the 'service offer'. Younger law practices are playing against law firms that have a 15 year lead on large business relationships. These firms have their blueprint on deals and cases that make headlines. The effect cascades into the mid-large segment. But what's more, the largest are also gunning for the mid-market-proper. They're competing on prices. And they have the talent powerhouses and capital to back this meal too.

Inside marketing circles the dark joke (with a hint of truth) is that: "The best marketer is the one... with the largest budget."

That line, added to the abovementioned market realities, makes it a no-brainer on who will win the sprint for aspirational mandates. But, there is hope in a marathon.

Lawyers in their growth stage cannot throw money at the problem of surviving in a market of established players. They have to play a much more skilled game of perception. The skillset is as follows:

Implementing tunnel-vision for prospects

For every five random client acquisitions in your practice, there are 15 more that you have ignored. You did not consciously select and attract a client based on your critical set of reasons. Therefore, client made their way to you either because you're a powerhouse to that client-category, or you have stretched yourself so far out that you got noticed in someone else's market. In both cases, you are ignoring the rest of your powerhouse category.

In marketing buzzwords, category identification is better known as "niching down". Buzz and theory apart, what's the practical outtake?

Does it mean taking your offer to the exact same client type that you have worked most for so far?

In one way, yes. Ascertaining that is all in a day's work. Update your practice notes and redline the size, sector, mandate and geography that is most recurring in your list.

What if there is no clear division or pattern emerging based on that data? Or the sample size is small? You could ask your clients for feedback. It may take a few weeks but you'll zero in on the qualities that clients and you mutually enjoy in each other.

Even so, what if this data merely points to "the thing that happened to you" and is very distinct to "how you see yourself as"? If you are emotionally stuck between a historical niche and an aspirational niche - will you be able to do enough justice to the historical and create enough opportunity in the aspirational?

Also, hyper-focusing on an old client pattern does not cover for mandatory evolution exercises. Your practice must keep tapping the next level of offer that prospects come to you for. It must also differentiate itself to create entire new markets.

The approximate science of niche identification can also not afford to ignore other factors. These could include lead sources, talent composition, macro-economic trends as well as the shifts inside the profession, age factors and the time you already used up, among others.

If all this sounds too complicated to intellectualize, the simple takeaway is the following:

A) Keep moving in the direction of niching down;

B) Don't see niching down as a "night before niche/night after niche" deliverable. It is a process of constant finetuning. Balance the stakes by making a critical reasons-based mix of 2-3 areas;

C) Have someone with a healthy distance from the practice look at your niche development in context of deep knowledge of you.

Content: How to use it

We see a vast majority of lawyers divided into two camps.

Camp 1: "We have LinkedIn, listings and awards, mailers, our website, external sponsored and editorial media to fill the pages of. So let's go!"

Camp 2:  "Outbound content is a humongous effort to take for a vague result. Let's not bother."

Peer pressure may reluctantly transfer campers from category two to one, but in fact the motivations of both camps are misguided.

All media is, essentially, stationery at your disposal. Stationery is not the end in itself. But it can be used to write the best story copy. Ramping up the volume of appearance on this media, of and by itself, does not guarantee result in the short or long run. The quality of content in each media appearance may make it slightly better but then, pragmatically, how do you even define "quality"?

The answer lies in: synchronicity. Authenticity is the only marketing of 2023. The only powerful content is the one that demonstrates your authentic story.

The 'authentic you' is a long, fascinating story copy encompassing a list of soft features. This compendium of features form part of a 'brand statement'. The publication of a regulatory update, an office opening, or an interview, of and by itself, is a dead appearance. This publication, when timed and crafted to showcase at least 2-3 out of your compendium of soft features - is better. This publication when placed over a selective channel evaluated for the channel's own perception, is king.

The king has won the board when there is evidence that it has influenced that 'one' conscious-targeted prospect on your list. I discussed conscious targeting in the previous section of this piece.

Positioning for popular power

The one refrain of our age is that we're all salespeople, no matter what our occupation.

Stakeholders of our honorable legal profession are, typically, averse to the 'dirty word' that is 'sales'. But 'sales', in its savviest definition is, simply, 'inquisition'. A great sales session is when you hold enough space for the buyer, and the buyer holds enough trust in you, for the buyer to open up to you about their needs.

The operative qualities being: Trust and curios connection.

How trustworthy and inquisitive are you perceived as, is a combination of various actions you take. These actions should culminate in one bottom-line: "How empowered do people around you feel by association with you?"

To build up to the point where you are positioned to empower those who hold more leverage than you, take steps to empower those less leveraged than you.

For example your prospects, who you are pitching to, hold more leverage. Your reportees, contemporaries, consultants and existing clients hold various degrees of lesser leverage.

Over meetings, mixers and events your market reads into subtle cues and background evidence about you. Market then causes a ripple effect through how it talks about you.

How you understand and support the needs and aspirations from the bottom rungs upward, will profile you. Therefore, let go of the myopia of only trying to "tell" your story to a prospect

Ask a professional to evaluate your environment for how it "shows" your story, and suggest a corrective strategy.

Prachi Shrivastava is the founder of law practice marketing firm Lawfinity Solutions and specialises in PR, marketing and business development for the legal sector. 

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news