Professor David B. Wilkins, Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School, gave the opening keynote at the recent Legal Marketing Association, or LMA, International Conference, reminding us there are structural changes going on in law firms and the world that should be causing all of us to sit up and pay attention.
He is part of a group that conducted extensive research into corporate buying decisions when it comes to legal work. Here are a few thoughts he shared that might be worthy of your attention, along with my related takeaways for you to consider.
YOUR CLIENTS DON’T SHOP THE WAY THEY USED TO
He shared his observation that:
“Buyers are getting way more sophisticated in making their buying decisions. Gone are the days when we had to go to the record store to find the music we wanted. If it wasn’t there, we couldn’t get it. We would work very hard to find the ONE song we wanted.”
He went on to show the contrast in buyer behavior between then and now.
“Today, if we buy music AT ALL, we go to iTunes…we rent it from Pandora. We create play lists. This is the new reality.”
In other words, we have choices, lots of choices. They are everywhere and they are easy to find. The same is true of your clients. They have choices, lots of choices. They are everywhere and they are easy to find.
Professor Wilkins talked more about how your potential clients shop for what you have to offer.
“The nature of competition has changed. When we can’t know the quality output, we look for the input. Where did they go to school? What have I heard about them and the service they provide?”
Read that last quote carefully. I’m a Marketing Strategist, so you must know I will pay attention to statements like that. My job is to look at the big picture to find out what all of the pieces are that fit together to help you grow and retain your business, so these are not words I take lightly.
Commit to leaving enough physical and digital breadcrumbs in the paths of your potential clients so that, when they are in need of your services, they stumble upon your breadcrumbs. You need to make sure people understand what you do, how you do it and for whom you do it.
Your clients are going to conduct a great deal of research behind your back to either reinforce or weaken their assumptions about you, so you have a job to do.
I’m not saying throw yourself around out there in any old way. This is what strategic marketing is all about. You need to think about your clients’ and potential clients’ needs, then distribute knowledge, both yours and others, around in a way that will help build the case for someone to choose you.
It is not your client’s job to find you. It is your job to remind them you are there. Give them the input they seek.
YOUR COMPETITION HAS CHANGED
Professor Wilkins shared what his research showed about the changing nature of competition.
“Lawyers used to think about other lawyers being their competition. They are now competing with all kinds of other service providers. We have have a range of new competitors that we never had before. This is putting increasing pressure on law firms.”
He also talked about how we need to collaborate with people inside and outside of our firms to give our clients what they want or need.
“Products are now a function of many people that cross organizational boundaries to produce the output. The iPhone is what it is because of the apps, which aren’t even made by Apple.”
The crossing organizational boundaries concept isn’t necessarily anything new or revolutionary. We have been talking about client service teams since the 90s when I was in-house at Baker & Daniels, now Faegre Baker Daniels, and probably before. It bears repeating, though, as I continue to see absolutely no reason why your clients should have to seek counsel somewhere else when it exists within your own firm.
I know, I know, your compensation structure isn’t set up right so that you get the appropriate credit for originating the business you give to your colleagues. I’ve heard and read all that a thousand times. Which leads me to my…
If you are an owner of your firm, or aspire to be one one day, or are even taking up physical space in your firm, then it’s important to act like it. Bring in the business you know your firm can handle because the second you let your client go somewhere else for legal advice when you know someone else in your firm can handle it is the second you hand them off to another firm, and that is not the mark of a good owner or caretaker of clients or law firms.
Spend some time thinking about unusual alliances that might help serve your clients. As with Professor Wilkins’ example of the iPhone being what it is because of apps they don’t even make, but which they make money from, what kind of alliances can you build with other service providers that makes good business sense for your clients? How can you make their lives easier by being their go-to provider for services that are complementary to yours?
WE MAKE MONEY THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY. WE RAISE OUR RATES.
Professor Wilkins reminded us that rate increases and leverage are how we used to make money in law firms. He also pointed out that these two things are never going to solely be able to be used to drive revenue in law firms again.
He shared the wisdom of Richard Susskind when it comes to clients’ changing needs:
“Clients are going to reduce their demand for hand-crafted, tailored solutions. That’s what lawyers were always good at doing…beautiful, intelligent, custom work. Clients are saying ‘You know what? Off the rack is good enough in many circumstances…not all…but in many.’ “
Professor Wilkins believes that even though clients are reducing their demand for the complicated work:
“They still need us. The world is messy. The world is more complex. Lawyers are good at that. Firms must find ways to provide this help, either internally or by partnering with other providers, while at the same time sourcing business from other markets, both geographic and substantive, in order to achieve revenue growth.”
Continue to be good at the hand-crafted, tailored, messy, complex work that your clients might need, but also be open to creating some “off-the-rack” solutions or packages that your clients might have in mind.
How do you find out what they have in mind?
- Talk to them.
- Find out what your competition offers.
- Find out what’s on their minds.
- Find out what they already know and determine what they need to know.
- Let them know how you work, and what you have available.
- Find out what their expectations are.
- Don’t ask them once.
- Ask them regularly.
What are your takeaways from Professor Wilkins’ comments?
Do you agree?