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Six ways to set your firm apart in 2017

Six ways to set your firm apart in 2017

The beginning of the year provides time for both reflection and renewal. The season invites us to look inward and consider our goals for our personal and professional lives.

Here is a new year’s resolution for attorneys to add to your lists: “In January, I will read all the practice area copy on my website and on the sites of at least 5 of my closest competitors.”

While this resolution may sound about as fun as trying a new diet or paying off that pesky credit card, it does support useful business development objectives. As you read through the pages, try to remember similarities and differences. (Chances are, similarities will be more prevalent.) Pay attention to where you tune out, scan or skip whole paragraphs of text. After you have finished, ask yourself what is different about each of the firms, including yours. Ask yourself what each is offering clients that makes it stand out. And ask yourself what the main points are that you remember about each.

Lessons learned

This exercise will likely serve to highlight a significant legal marketing challenge: the many parallels between different firms in the same space. Attorney marketing content is often similar from firm to firm, in part because the services they offer from practice area to practice area are very much alike. A great portion of what you do probably overlaps with what your competition is doing.

This structural reality makes differentiating your firm in a memorable way important. Competing firms are often alike in some ways; it is your job when marketing your practice to emphasize the differences.

Attorneys are no longer your only competition

Client acquisition has also become more challenging for reasons other than the sheer number of attorneys competing for business. Market conditions are affecting law firms’ ability to attract and retain new clients.

The people searching for attorneys are themselves one of these factors. Prospective clients who are online researching legal issues are smarter and more savvy than ever. They are looking to source materials, like actual case law and .gov websites, to better understand the law on their own. As a result, prospective clients are more educated and knowledgeable, and they are more likely to believe that they can solve their issue on their own than ever before. Why should they spend their money hiring a lawyer?

This phenomenon feeds into the second market component placing competitive pressure on attorneys: do-it-yourself services. A plethora of sites — even those that offer law firm marketing services like Findlaw and Nolo — provide free legal forms. You have to convince prospective clients that you are both better than other lawyers and that the cost of hiring you is worth the quality of representation when compared to a free service.

Too much legal marketing only highlights basic expectations

For the most part, it is safe to assume that law firms, or at least the successful ones, are full of professional, experienced attorneys who care about clients and about providing the best possible service. To use these points as the sole ways of marketing your own practice is to tell visitors that you are merely the same as everyone else. You have what clients consider to be the essentials: an education and knowledge about their particular issue. Consider the following often used phrases, each of which is simply a baseline client expectation:

  • · Focused on results
  • · Committed to clients
  • · Value driven
  • · Part of a team with xx years of combined experience
  • · Proactive problem solvers
  • · Responsive
  • · Committed to the best outcome
  • · Treat clients with respect

Respect and commitment to outcomes are bare minimums from a client’s perspective. They are looking for “what else.”

More than the minimum number of pieces of flair

While your website should discuss basic information like your education and experience, it must go beyond platitudes and separate you in a memorable way from other firms. Here are some methods for telling an engaging story that is uniquely your own.

1. Show, don’t tell

It is one thing to tell prospective clients that you can help them and yet another to demonstrate how in a meaningful way. Go into detail about your practice and how you accomplish results. People do not relate to generalities, but they will relate to stories about similar individuals who have achieved positive results. As you discuss your practice areas, include case studies and representative transactions when possible. Describe the process — really tell people what they can expect. And request testimonials from happy clients, so that others can read first-hand accounts of why they should hire you.

2. Expand upon the essentials

Providing information that is hard to find elsewhere impresses both visitors and search engines. When writing practice area content, spend less time on generalities that are universal across lawyer websites and more time digging deeper into your niche areas. What do you do that others do not? Do you have a unique focus, history, process or way of approaching issues?

Supply facts and statistics that will both hold readers’ interest and provide detailed pages for search engines to index. Your prospective clients are more interested in the nuts and bolts of the law than you likely give them credit for being. They can read generic practice area content anywhere. Telling readers what you do is the baseline; explaining how you do it differently is the goal.

3. Write a killer attorney bio

About pages and attorney bio pages are some of the most visited pages on an attorney website. Visitors are understandably interested in the people with whom they will be working. Prospective clients are looking for a reason to trust you.

Like your practice area descriptions, attorney bios will contain some amount of information that all readers expect to see. In this case, detailing your education, past experience and areas in which you practice — things that all attorneys will list — is the bare minimum. Your attorney bio should also give people a reason to connect with you.

Do not be afraid to give personal details. What are you passionate about? Why did you start practicing law? What is unique about your approach to life in general or the law specifically? The answers to these questions should supply the meat of your bio, not just an obligatory sentence at the very end. Your prospective clients are much more likely to relate to someone who talks to them like a fellow human being than they are to a resume-style list.

4. Understand your unique selling position (USP)

The USP has been defined in many ways since the phrase was coined decades ago. At its most basic, your USP is the thing that makes you different. More deeply, your USP is the thing your firm is most enthusiastic about — it is what you are known for. It is something specific, something deeper than being a good lawyer who cares about clients.

Some questions to ask yourself when uncovering your USP include:

– What does my practice offer that other firms do not? Is this item a specific niche practice area, or is it a certain way of doing things?

– Why should people hire my firm? Can this be applied to other firms? (If so, keep thinking.)

– Do I have a specialty, personal history or area of knowledge that others do not?

– What do prospective clients often ask? How can I answer their questions with a unique trait or example?

5. Review the competition

Too many attorneys will study their competition in order to be more like them. However, the logic that if A is working for B it must also work for C does not hold up. Just because a competing firm is successful with a certain tactic does not mean the same will work for you. Any number of circumstances can affect outcomes, and the tactic might simply not be a good fit for your firm.

You are increasing your chances of blending in with each attempt you make to be more like your competition. You are making indistinctness a self-fulfilling prophecy. You should study your competition so that you better understand how not to be like them. You should read other law firm websites to see where they are repetitive or dull so that you can avoid the same trap.

6. Choose language thoughtfully

Specificity is useful because it leaves less room for misinterpretation. People have varying opinions about what words like quality, value and even experience actually mean. In the absence of specifics, prospective clients will be left with only a vague sense of what you stand for and who you are — much of which is open to their own interpretation.

Writing with specificity also makes it difficult to use clichés, which you should avoid like… you get it. You need to be able to convey to readers that you understand what your positive attributes, like problem-solving ability or respect for clients, actually mean to them within the context of your practice. How do these attributes manifest themselves into action? What is it like for clients to actually work with you?

The legal marketplace is crowded and noisy. That is not likely to change over the coming year. However, your approach to overcoming difficulties and standing out above the fray is versatile. Subtle changes can have a big impact on the effectiveness of your marketing and business development efforts. Taking a little time for introspection is well worth it.


Kristen Friend
Kristen Friend is a 1999 graduate of Indiana University, with Bachelors Degrees in both journalism and religious studies. In 2003, she graduated from the International Academy of Design. She is a contributor to the Bigger Law Firm magazine, and is the Art Director for Adviatech (Custom Legal Marketing's parent company). When she isn't making law firms look their best, Kristen can be found hiking up Mt. Tamalpais or inventing gluten free baking recipes.

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