Change has not come easy in the business of law and the legal services market. But, despite its reputation for preserving the status quo, there are progressive signs of innovation; the move away from the billable hour, a stronger focus on the role of the “non-lawyer,” and the emerging use of leading edge technologies, all show promise.
But will lawyers respond and change fast enough to keep pace with today’s competitive forces?
The legal spend from corporate clients continues to decline or remain flat. The result: increased competition among law firms for a bigger piece of a smaller pie. At the same time, law departments are consolidating, or converging, their outside counsel firms to a much smaller panel of preferred firms. Often, turning to large law firms with strong technology capabilities to bundle, automate and oversee a large portfolio of routine legal services. Those that get crowded out are often the smaller firms or solo practitioners.
At the other end of the market, consumers and smaller businesses have new options. They can choose a service provider instead of a lawyer. Innovations, like LegalZoom, benefit consumers by creating greater access to legal assistance, but lawyers are feeling the pinch as more and more business is siphoned away.
Competitive pressure from business and consumers has taken its biggest toll on solo practitioners, and up-and-coming lawyers who need to build, strengthen or expand their areas of practice.
As the legal industry continues to morph and evolve, there are some strong strategies that you or your firm can consider to better position yourself or your firm’s lawyers for success in a volatile and competitive marketplace:
Retain Current Clients
Start by securing your client base. Check in with your clients on current work and future plans. Have a stewardship conversation to confirm that the quality of work still meets or exceeds expectations. Ask for candid feedback, knowing that there’s always room to improve. Be open to new ideas and constructive feedback. Inquire about your client’s future goals and changing needs, and look for opportunities to help. Keep client service (communications, billing, planning and follow-up) accurate, timely and efficient. Remember, existing clients are an important source of new business.
Small Steps Can Be Smart Steps
Think evolution before revolution when it comes to expanding your reputation. You have a business to run and client engagements that need your attention and focus. But to be more competitive and successful also means taking deliberate, thoughtful action. Start with one or two reputation-building projects, such as a well-placed industry article or a client industry conference presentation, before taking on bigger and bolder initiatives.
Seek New Ways To Reach New Clients – And For Them To Find You
In our work with an innovation incubator in Chicago, we found that one of the biggest challenges for lawyers and clients alike is the age-old referral and networking process. When most people need a lawyer, they ask for a referral, as they have for generations. But, asking around has it limits. It is difficult to find a knowledgeable, good-fit attorney for a particular legal need. At the same time, lawyers who are seeking clients, often use traditional networks and are limited by geography and subject to poor timing.
Even with technology tools such as Google, LinkedIn or online law firm lawyer directories, the issue becomes finding a good mutual fit; the right expertise at the right price in the right time frame.
In today’s legal services environment, smart and aggressive marketing is no longer an option. It is a necessity. Technologies, like online platforms, play an important role in leveling the playing field in a competitive marketplace by broadening geographic reach and fostering direct communication at the time of need.