Have you ever sat down and tried to draft a business plan for your law practice? My law partner and I have been creating a more definitive plan of action for our office recently, and in that process I attempted to use an automated online guide in drafting a business plan and forecasting our business model. The experience was soon deflating because the traits that distinguish a great business from the rest of the pack include the unique nature of its product or service within the marketplace, and I began to realize that our service as a law firm is little different than hundreds of other lawyers within a 10 mile radius of our office. In other words, our business is strikingly similar and hardly distinguishable, from the outside looking in, to far more competitors than I would like to admit. Do an online YP search of attorneys in your area and you’re going to end up with thousands of results. If you limit that search to only those attorneys in your specific practice area the results may be more limited, but there are likely still hundreds of attorneys all competing for the same client.
As I began drafting my business plan, the first question asked by the automated system is: “Describe the key problem or unmet need that you will address for your customers. If you have a common business, such as a restaurant or nail salon, explain why your customers need your particular restaurant or nail salon. Do you offer lower prices? More convenient hours? A better location? A specialty that is not otherwise available in your area, such as a Moroccan restaurant or a late-night taco truck?”
First, limiting the competition to just our practice areas, most attorneys in any given geographic area are going to charge a comparable rate, they are going to maintain office hours around 8-5, and they may be in any number of locations that may or may not be convenient.
So how do you answer the above question as an attorney looking to differentiate yourself from the saturated pack?
Most would answer that question with, “Provide exceptional services.” What they mean by that is, “Be the best lawyers we can be.” Ok, well if the Wal-Mart checker says, “I’m going to be the best checker in the entire city,” I’m still probably not going to shop at Wal-Mart.
Contrary to popular belief, almost every lawyer is going to be able to draft a pleading, find the courthouse, get it filed, set for hearing and heard. Others most likely can even find a sample document, draft a contract, or research a unique issue. Lawyers don’t become lawyers without having some semblance of a notion as to how to be a lawyer. However, few have a very good idea how to be a “different” lawyer.
How does your law firm solve the problems of the client in a manner that is unique to your market? You better be able to answer this question if you are ever going to set yourself apart in such a competitive market place.
The easy answer is to be the cheapest, but being cheap doesn’t equate to success, and it typically only leaves you working more for less. So in an effort to implement a business plan for your law firm that is unique and sets yourself apart, where can you differentiate? Here are 5 ideas to get you started:
1. Lead With Character
Never allow your character to be called into question as it relates to a client, or a client’s matter. Always maintain the highest level of ethical conduct in dealing with opposing counsel, opposing parties, your clients, or the community as a whole. Those attorneys who begin to cut ethical corners are typically the one’s who have a hard time maintaining a successful practice.
2. Be Authentic
Authenticity is difficult at times, especially for younger attorneys. The expectations placed on young attorneys burdens them with the idea that they must wear triple pleated pants before they will be taken seriously, even though that persona is in conflict with their authentic self. Be who you are, and succeed or fail as you. Wouldn’t you rather try and fail as yourself than succeed living as someone else?
3. Be Consistent
Clients appreciate an attorney who does what they say they will do. Be consistent in your approach to all cases. If you can’t return every phone call the same day, don’t tell people you’re going to. If you can’t finish a pleading or document within the day, tell the client as much. Be consistent with your clients and they will appreciate it, and appreciative clients are typically clients that last.
4. Be Innovative
Make life easier for your clients through the use of technology. Our office recently experimented with an online scheduling application that allows clients to schedule consultations without even calling the office. We don’t know if it will be a success or a failure, but we’re trying it in order to continue to innovate in an effort to make life easier for our clients. Clients appreciate lawyers who put in the effort to make their life easier. Keep innovating and see what happens.
5. Stay Connected
Updates, emails, and phone calls go a long way to keeping clients happy. Connecting with clients and ensuring they know you’re there and that you care about doing a good job for them is always appreciated. I’ve yet to hear a client complain about getting too much information from their attorney. Stay connected.
These are just a few ways to differentiate yourself from the crowded field of attorneys vying for clients in any jurisdiction. These are characteristics that can be implemented without regard to budget, experience, and advertising. They simply boil down to being a good human being who cares about their clients. Do unto your clients, as you would have an attorney do unto you. That’s my golden rule.
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