Advances in technology, disaggregation of legal work, the rise of alternative legal service providers and increasingly savvy consumers are rapidly changing the legal profession.
Firms that thrive in today’s market are those who differentiate themselves from their competitors. They deliver legal services in innovative ways, creating true value for their clients.
Where do you sit on the spectrum? Are you changing the way you do business? Or are you covering your eyes, avoiding the inevitable because you don’t know where to start?
The thing is, transformation won’t just happen by itself. But despite all the conversation about why firms need to change, there is little practical guidance telling you how to go about it.
If you’re running a small firm, this five-step framework explains how you can redesign your legal services and demonstrate your unique value to your target market.
1. Know your purpose
If you’re truly committed to transformation you need to let go of traditional ways of working. Release yourself from preconceived expectations about the practice of law and imagine what kind of law firm you want to run.
There is no point changing for change’s sake. This is an opportunity to create a unique business that is a true reflection of your values and purpose. One that brings you real fulfillment.
Start with why
We’ve all heard that we should ‘start with why’, but many of us don’t know why we do what we do. As Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”
If this is true, the starting point on your journey of transformation should be to work out your “why”.
What is your purpose? Why do you do what you do? Better still, why do you want to lead the firm you will create?
You need to know what your purpose is before you can incorporate it into your work.
Who is your ideal client?
Then, consider who you exist to serve, what value you will provide them and what makes your offering unique.
Who is your ideal client? What solutions will you deliver? How will you provide value? How will your service be different from that offered by another firm?
Remember, you can’t please everyone and you don’t need to. The narrower your niche, both in terms of your ideal client and the service you will offer, the easier it will be to articulate your purpose to your target audience.
2. Create productised legal solutions
Clients aren’t looking to buy units of time; they want solutions to their problems. Your role is to identify and provide that solution.
The clearer you are about what you sell, the easier it will be for your clients to identify their needs and for you to manage the delivery of your service.
What solutions do you provide?
Start by identifying the common links between the services you provide for different clients. What are most people asking you for? What is the entry point service?
It could be the creation of a document or application, advice on a legal issue, responding to a claim or initiating proceedings.
Map out what is involved in the delivery of this service to define its scope, give it a name and a price and, hey presto, you have a legal product!
Why sell productised services?
Advertising products for standard services will demonstrate your expertise and credibility. It tells the market that you’re so good at this that you have a pre-prepared solution for their problem.
Your transparency around service and price will also attract clients whose problems don’t fit neatly within your pre-prepared solution. This is ok – produstisation is a one-size-fits-many solution, not a one-size-fits-all.
Having standardised products gives you the time and space to devote to more interesting and complex matters. These will be priced according to the value of the service to the client.
3. Focus on process improvement
Traditionally, law firms have focussed providing quality outcomes, not on how those outcomes were derived. Little time has been spent on improving processes as a means of business success.
A product is a standardised set of services, so it makes sense that legal products go hand in hand with process improvement.
What do you mean by process improvement?
Process improvement isn’t just about cutting costs. The aim is to standardise production to increase efficiency, minimise risk and improve performance. This will improve the quality of your and increase the value you provide.
But internal process improvement shouldn’t be divorced from client experience. Client experience should be mapped and analysed so you can identify client’s needs and pain points. Use this information to work out where and how you can add value. This is how you can truly differentiate your service from your competitors.
What about technology?
Technology is essential in process improvement, but it shouldn’t be the starting point. Technology should enable a service, not drive it. Process comes first.
Once you’ve identified the best process, technology tools can then be used to enable and enhance that process.
You can find tech tools to create workflows, schedule reminders and appointments, design complex document templates, delegate work among team members, review documents, analyse data and provide legal advice, to name just a few.
The good news is that you don’t have to be especially tech-savvy to take advantage of what’s on offer. Most platforms enable you to create advanced solutions with no coding required! Worst case, you can outsource the set-up of your technology solutions. Don’t let your fear of the unknown put you off.
4. Work on your market positioning
Positioning is your ability to influence clients’ perception of you relative to your competitors.
It’s easier to stand out as experienced and knowledgeable when you offer a clearly defined, ready-to-go, fixed price solution in a market saturated with lawyers selling advice charged on an hourly rate.
But products are just one part of the message.
How to take charge of your market positioning
You can enhance your market positioning by:
- Building a strong corporate brand that reflects the firm’s purpose. Clients will be attracted to the firm because of what you stand for and the way you do business, not because of the profiles of the people you employ.
- Focusing on a niche market. Although it seems counter-intuitive, a broad approach is less effective. Clients want specialists. They search for exactly what they’re looking for and are attracted to firms who can provide just that.
- Giving away information for free. Clients have access to more information now than ever before. They’re more educated about their legal matters and they want to know that you know what you’re talking about. Don’t be afraid of giving away information. By doing so you’re demonstrating not only that you’re an expert in your area, but that you’re willing to share that expertise and help others.
There’s a reason I put positioning fourth on the list. Although it is important to know that your business idea has merit, you need to get clear on your purpose and products before you can ramp up on your positioning.
5. Find the right people
I said before that technology is just the enabler. If that’s the case, people are still the solution. Purpose, products, process and positioning will only get you so far – you need the right people to drive your vision.
Having the right people can make a business truly excel, especially when those people share your purpose.
By knowing and articulating your firm’s purpose, you will attract people who share your values and who are self-motivated to achieve the firm’s goals.
But who are the right people? Aside from the fact that they must share your values, there are two other things to consider.
1. Being a good lawyer is no longer enough
The delta-shaped lawyer competency model says that three competency areas will be essential for lawyers of the future:
- Personal effectiveness – relationship management, entrepreneurial mindset, emotional intelligence, communication and character.
- Business and operations – business fundamentals, project management and data analytics.
- The law – subject matter expertise, legal analysis, legal research and legal writing.
2. Being a lawyer is no longer essential
As alternative legal service providers have shown us, much of the work in the legal supply chain can be completed by people who don’t have a practising certificate.
Your clients are looking for a solution. Who (or what, in the case of technology) provides that solution is a secondary consideration.
A firm with well-established processes can employ any number of professionals to provide its legal services.
Look for people who share your values and who have skills in personal effectiveness and business operations, not just for people who have a practising certificate.
Where to from here?
So, ready to get started?
Take out a pen and paper and start brainstorming your ‘why’.
Don’t expect an overnight transformation. It will take some time to find your new groove. But at the same time, small steps make big changes. Don’t be afraid. See this as an opportunity for growth and bolstering yourself for your future.
I’d love to hear your ideas for making changes at your firm. Get in touch and let’s have a chat.