Brands are not just for big firms. Thayne Forbes argues that they can work for smaller practices as well
I run a high street law firm – do I have a valuable brand?
I wouldn’t like to be running a high street law firm without a name, reputation, brand (or whatever you call it) which does not promise a premium for quality. Otherwise the legal services offered would just be commodities and that is a dangerous route – there is always someone out there who can provide a commodity for a cheaper price. For instance, many law firms are outsourcing operations to foreign jurisdictions for cost-saving reasons.
A high street law firm has the opportunity to have significant relevance and access to a local community. This is not just for routine matters, in depressed markets such as conveyancing, but for clients who need help to do an important deal or help in getting out of real trouble.
Clients value local access, accessibility and visibility. Many retail outlets get most of their business from people walking by, and high street law firms should also do this. It may sound trite, but a large smart eye-catching sign saying “Legal advice on criminal issues” should in itself attract business in areas where the crime rate is high, or near a police station.
Where does the value lie – in the firm or with the partners?
From the point of view of maximising firm value, there is always the possibility that brand value might actually reside in the individual lawyers themselves rather than the firm. This might be good for the individuals if they decide to leave, but not so good if they want to stay.
One of the benefits of cooperating in a business structure is the extra quality business generated by working together, of which cross-selling and working in teams are obvious examples. The more that this is focused through a brand, the more value will reside in the firm and be less vulnerable to walking with the individual lawyers.
How do I make sure my brand appeals to my target market?
There are some initiatives in the legal markets to leverage brand value in a way which is accessible to clients. So, instead of seeing the names of founding partners and an imposing office (which has no real relevance to a client), someone going down the high street can clearly see understandable offerings such as QualitySolicitors. It is natural that people want to use a law firm which is local to them and a high street presence, along with a strong reputation is key to establishing a brand in your target area.
If my firm enters into a marketing collective do I lose my firm’s brand value?
A high street law firm joining such an arrangement might find that brand value is actually found in the marketing collectives and not the firm itself. This might lead to their being a commodity service provider. A firm leaving such a network might find it painful if a significant part of business value, the brand, is owned by someone else who then becomes a competitor.
But what about the competition? Marketing legal services is a subtle business, and perhaps in a less developed stage given that professional restrictions have not been lifted for that long. Marketing legal services is often ineffective, just look for example at a local Yellow Pages and see how many ads for law firms stress their name, their offices and their jargon for their services.
Consumers don’t necessarily understand this, and might well go for something that is clearly aimed meeting their needs and in their language. This is classic marketing theory of course, and can ultimately reside in the brand. But in legal markets I would say that there is likely much more benefit in developing this for your own brand rather than someone else’s.
Thayne Forbes is joint managing director of independent brand consultancy firm Intangible Business