Last month, I asked if your law firm is seen as a vendor.
Some of the tell-tale signs are clients leaving without warning, clients refusing to refer you to others, and clients regularly pushing you to cut your rates or provide free services. In my own experience, and from talking with hundreds of my attorney colleagues, I’m convinced that being commoditized, and being seen as a vendor are the leading causes of lawyer unhappiness.
Let’s look at the role first impressions have on the perceptions of your potential clients, and therefore on your happiness and livelihood as a lawyer.
First Impressions Can Make Or Break A Law Firm
While all lawyers need to make a great first impression, some lawyers must do it much more often than others. A transactional lawyer with clients who keep the firm on retainer, or that bring in predictable recurring business, will naturally need fewer first impressions than a lawyer who focuses on consumers with one-time or rare legal events such as DUI, personal injury, criminal, family law and bankruptcy matters.
Despite the differential in frequency of needed first impressions, making good ones may be even more important to business lawyers than consumer-facing lawyers. This is because, once a client sees your law firm as a vendor rather than a trusted partner, it’s an uphill battle to change that perception.
When, as lawyers, we fail to make a first impression that removes us from that dreaded vendor label, we not only harm our own practices, we degrade the overall perception of the profession as a whole. If an estate planning lawyer in the office across the street allows himself to become a commoditized vendor, the potential client pool that you share with him in your estate planning practice is being trained to think of you that way as well.
So how can a lawyer make a great first impression that shakes the vendor curse in spite of the fact that other lawyers are propagating it? Here are some basic concepts that, although simple, are ignored by many firms:
Basic Concept 1: Talk about your potential clients and their needs more than you talk about your law firm.
This may seem obvious, but look at all of the law firm websites out there. Most of them are homages to an attorney’s ego. Replete with useless website design elements and proclamations of superiority, victories, cheapness, and terms of art only attorneys would appreciate, these websites miss the mark. There are several reasons for this:
- Attorneys tend to copy each other, and there are law firm website designers with lots of attorney clients who perpetuate the misguided notion that potential clients select attorneys based on fanciness of design.
- Attorneys tend to copy each other, and, despite the impossibility of the assertions, almost everybody is asserting that they are, in some way, superior. The problem is, they are telling of their superiority without giving a potential client any basis from which to draw that conclusion themselves.
Basic Concept 2: Tell them something that they don’t know.
Your potential clients experience an abundance of marketing messages from law firms. Simply saying the same thing that everybody else says is a road to nowhere. This is because:
- Copying content that is already out there is highly unlikely to get you found using the search engines. In fact, one of the foundational principles of legal SEO is that duplicate content is useless at best. The search engines aim to give their users content that adds to each user’s knowledge, so they don’t typically award recycled content with good placement in the search engine results.
- If you use the same words as everybody else, then human beings will ignore your content (if they ever find it) just like the search engines do.
Basic Concept 3: Position your law firm’s brand.
How to position your law firm is a vast topic that is beyond the scope of this article. But you should be able to come up with a basic statement that tells what your firm is, who you are for, and why you are unlike you competitors. For example:
At the Jones Law Firm, we help startups get a legal foothold without losing their financial traction. Unlike large Silicon Valley law firms, we make our money over the long-haul as your startup grows and succeeds. Unlike general small law firms, our lawyers have have sat across the table from the largest VC and PE firms, so you’ll get all of the benefits of a large firm without burning your runway in the process.
When you know what you stand for (and against), it will work like magic on the potential clients that are best suited for you and your practice. The first impression that your firm makes will hold your position in the client’s mind. It will make the sales process — and the process of representing the client — easier, more rewarding, and more replicable.