10 May Fishes, ponds and law practice positioning
Do you have your law practice positioning sorted?
Are you a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond?
And how’s that all working out for you?
With the massive growth of solicitors and law practices over the last decade, the market for legal services has become increasingly sophisticated. Clients now know that not all lawyers are the same, and they increasingly not only look for a specialise, they look for reasons to choose one specialist over another. The legal services market is therefore well into its phases of either 2nd or 3rd level of differentiation.
It’s probably this ‘2nd or 3rd level differentiation’ that most law practices are struggling with. Nowadays, it isn’t enough for law firms to ‘just’ do property law or family law because there are many other law firms that similarly just do those things. They all look the same and the competition comes down to marketing effort or price.
The arguments for narrow positioning, for depth over breadth, for being a bigger fish in a smaller pond are now well established:
- clients are ever-more-sophisticated and are buying legal services on an informed case-for-case basis
- clients increasingly see value and reassurance in depth rather than breadth
- you attract clients from a broader/larger market
- you attract more of your ‘ideal’ clients that you actually like working with
- loyalty is dead or dying
- the trusted advisor approach is still valued – but don’t think that means that clients are going to come to you over accomplished specialists for matters where expertise can make a difference
- narrow positioning offers the opportunity to charge premium rates: client are willing to pay extra for ever more specialist expertise
- narrow positioning makes for more effective, efficient marketing
- narrow positioning means you can do the more interesting work that you actually enjoy
- being a bigger fish is good for the ego, which in turn makes you more successful and good-looking. See March and Parker and their BFLPE (big-fish-little-pond effect) (well, maybe you won’t actually look better, but you might feel better-looking, which is nearly as good)
And there was something else. . . . Oh yeah:
- it works: firms with narrower positioning are more likely to be successful and profitable.
What’s with the broad offering?
So why do so many law practices cling on to their broader range of services?
One answer of course is risk: solicitors are naturally risk averse and are reluctant to limit the breadth of their offering in case a potential client doesn’t see a specific offering on the list and goes elsewhere. This sounds logical, but it betrays a misunderstanding of how clients buy. The fact is that, without the narrow, clearly defined offering, fewer and fewer clients will look at you in the first place. The more offerings you list – 4, 5, 6 . . . the broader your law practice positioning and the more you move away from being ‘the perfect choice’ for any given client. The broader your offering, the more difficult it is for people to give good strong referrals to others because people just don’t know who you are and what you stand for.
The world has changed and staying with broad positioning is now the risky option.
And you may be surprised how much of that other work you still attract. By becoming the ‘go-to’ practice in any given niche (or niche within a niche), your esteem and reputation benefits and people actually want to use your specific narrow expertise and enhanced credibility on something you don’t specifically offer. Weird but true! Give it a go!
The other reason that law practices hesitate to go narrow is because of their expertise. Because (like Everest), it’s there! Solicitors place a high regard on their expertise, and it seems silly not to offer services that you are perfectly capable of providing. This however is simply indulgent and ignores the fact that clients don’t value breadth of expertise – they just want specific expertise for their specific matter. By offering services just because you can, you dilute your brand and move further away from being the ideal firm for your ideal clients.
For the reasons above, your law practice positioning is more effective if you position yourself as offering fewer services than you are capable of, to a narrower market than you actually serve.
Your positioning should be aspirational and should target your favourite, most rewarding, IDEAL work, for your IDEAL clients, rather than any work for any clients.
Go on, dive in, dive deep, be a big fish!