Will your brand stand up to the new competition?

The spectre of increased competition in the legal market has prompted wildly different responses from law firms.

Some are rolling up their sleeves and preparing for the fight; others seem to have given in already or have senior partners whose main strategy is to hope they reach retirement before it all kicks in.

Not much chance of that I’m afraid. But on a positive note, I’ve always thought that it won’t be as bad as some people fear.

That’s why I was very interested to read Rachel Rothwell’s article in the Gazette, ‘Consumers unattracted by non-legal brands, survey suggests’.

It provided an exclusive preview of a Contact Law survey in which 66% of consumers said they would not be happy to buy legal services through non-legal brands, and 84% said service was more important than price when dealing with legal services.

The article prompted some understandable comments from readers as to the reliability of the survey, but even so, I think it has the ring of truth about it. I’m not a lawyer and I think the AA or supermarkets are perfectly fine, but when it comes to legal services I want to go to a law firm.

Why? Well, I think it’s because I like the comfort of dealing with specialists when it comes to such an important service. I don’t mind the supermarket assistant not having a clue about how to work the electrical goods they sell, and I don’t mind that the checkout staff look bored when serving me, but I don’t think I want those characteristics in a lawyer.

Law firms are run by partners or directors with a stake in the business. That engenders a commitment that would be hard for a jobbing supermarket solicitor to emulate.

I think most people feel the same, as illustrated perhaps in the Contact Law survey.

That doesn’t mean law firms are off the hook, of course. Let’s not be naive. The new players are going to take a significant slice of the market, but the point is that it is still all to play for and, as the survey suggests, consumers still find some comfort in the idea of the traditional high street law firms.

The job for those firms, of course, is to nurture that feeling. Instead of worrying about the new brands, firms should think of how then can reinforce their own brand.

The challenge is to get your retaliation in first; win the hearts and minds of your clients now so they’ll come back for more. Make it difficult for someone else to win them over.

You may wish to refresh your brand, in which case, the standard advice is that you should focus on what is the unique selling point of your firm. This has become a cliché and, while it is true, I think it is often overplayed and sometimes law firms can take it too literally.

It can be hard to find something that makes you genuinely different to the thousands of other firms out there – and there’s a danger that when firms can’t find a unique selling point, they simply stop trying and don’t bother at all.

The answer is not to take this too seriously. As long as the brand is positive, the most important thing is to get it across to the public.

The best place to begin is with your existing clients. Use the fact that you’ve refreshed your brand as an excuse to write to them and remind them of your presence. As you help clients with one problem, take the opportunity to speak to them and let them know about your other services. Provide good brochures and leaflets to reinforce the message.

And remember, the marketing effort doesn’t stop once the client has left the office. Find reasons to keep in touch. Send them questionnaires asking what they thought of your service. Let them know of forthcoming seminars, assuming you are staging any. If you are not, then surely you are missing a marketing opportunity.

Even if most people don’t come to the seminar, which they won’t, the very fact that you have told them about it reminds them you are there and emphasises that you are an important player offering valuable services.

Produce a good quality newsletter every quarter. This should carry stories about the latest legal developments that affect people’s lives. Keeping in touch with clients lets them know you still value them and increases the opportunity of cross-selling. You can also open up another front with the media. Let your local press and business magazines know about developments within your firm. Advertise your seminars.

What it boils down to is reinforcing your relationship with existing clients while reaching out to new ones. It means putting your name in front of people at every opportunity.

People are reassured by a familiar name, so make sure they see your name as often as possible.

This article first appeared in the Law Gazette