I do not quote other experts as much as I use to, and I need to do it more. Let me start by directing you to Marrilyn Astin Tarlton's article posted on Attorney At Work entitled Laffy Taffy or Hershey Kiss?
It is a hoot of a title, but it makes a point. You as a lawyer or part of a law firm have to distinguish yourself in ways that really matter to the people, groups, companies, entities, organizations or associations you might wish to hire you.
I like her point: "I can hear you developing your argument now ... 'Our lawyers went to better schools. We office in an historic low-rise building, not a skyscraper. We use purple for our website, for goodness sake!' Alas, as it turns out, those are all features that mean little, if anything, to your client".
The point is that the lawyer and the law firm distinguish themselves in ways that are important to them, and not the potential client. They market to their taste and interest and not to that of their clients. At least that is my take on the comment.
As Ms. Tarlton says, "Become a firm that is uniquely … something. Be extraordinary to a group of clients who want exactly what you’ve got. Patterning your practice after every other firm won’t get you to the next step. Think differently. Create something unique. It’s what they want".
I personally think that lawyers and law firms subtly distinguish themselves. The problem is they distinguish themselves from their perceived competition (Oops, I meant colleagues). To most consumers, these iterations have all of the distinguishing factors of the differences between Dr. Seuss' Thing One and Thing Two.
Here is what I like to say. Clients do not hire lawyers or law firms. They generally do not want anything to do with lawyers or law firms. They do have problems or need solutions and they will hire someone to deal with those. Most ways that law firms try to distinguish themselves is in subtle ways that say, "My lawyers can beat your lawyers". That might please a few psychopaths, but few others. And really, who wants to work with or for a psychopath? Talk about being dissatisfied with the practice of law.
I have stated this in the past again and again. I will do it here as well. Clients do not care if you are in a high rise building or working from your home. They do not care if you drink coffee or tea. They do not care if you buy suits at Men's Warehouse or Needless Markups. They do not really care if you graduated from Harvard Law or Bob's Really Big Law School (formally Fred's). What they care about is that they have a problem to solve and that you can identify that problem and have the expertise and empathy to help them solve it. And, nothing in the description about how good your are, where you work, how you work, what you wear, on what side you comb your hair, or whether you wear boxers or briefs matters in the least.
If what you do as a lawyer does not speak upfront to the specific problem with which your clients need help, you might be making yourself feel superior, but from a client centric standpoint you are spinning your wheels.
It is all about your practice niche. It is all about speaking to your practice niche. It is all about speaking effectively to those in need of your practice niche.
I, as the consumer, do not care if you are a life long resident of Montgomery County, Texas. I do not care if you graduated from The University of Texas. I do not care if you have WestLaw instead of the old law library. Order of the Coif? What in the hell is that, and do they or do they not believe in God? The one I love is the statement that goes something like, "been involved as first chair in over 100 jury trials". Really? Who knows the meaning of first chair, and the one thing I am trying to avoid is going in front of a jury with anybody. That sounds painful. That sounds prohibitively expensive. Don't you know how to settle a case? Your cases must be all about you and not about me. And, I do not care if you received the Bladda Bladda Bladda Award in law school. Leave it with the selection group of the law firm that hires you.
Each of these things tells me nothing about my problem and how you are able to deal with it effectively. It is all about you as a lawyer. All it tells me is that everything is about you. Who wants to be represented by some amorphous attorney or law firm that is into itself?
What is it about you that will help me? And, let me give you a hint. It is not where you placed in your graduating class in law school. It is not that you are a member of the Texas Bar College or are licensed to practice all four federal districts in Texas. I do care a little bit about your beautiful family, but do not take it too far.
Well, I am getting cranky, I guess, so I will end here. But, Ms. Tarlton is right, if not as crude as I might be. What is that distinguishes you in a way that can actually be of some help to me?