Can Your Brand Be Too Premium?

It is almost an enviable problem.

After a law firm – let’s call it Stark & Banner – won a number of high-profile, high-stakes cases, the firm earned a reputation as a premium litigation boutique in its area of specialty.

The challenge: The market has started to perceive Stark & Banner as only handling the biggest, baddest matters…and referrals for basic work have slowed. The lawyers are hearing comments like “Well, it’s not quite a Stark & Banner case, so who would you send this client to?”

This stings for a number of reasons:

  • The high-profile cases in their realm are sporadic; focusing exclusively there is not a reliable source of revenue.
  • Stark & Banner can quite profitably handle more commonplace matters.
  • The firm recently hired a couple of younger lawyers to handle exactly this type of work. In addition to wanting to keep them busy, Stark & Banner counts on straightforward matters to provide experience and grit.

How can the firm re-capture its referrals for basic work without losing its big-case cachet?

To be sure, referrals from the lawyer community are critical for Stark & Banner, just as they are industrywide. According to Clio research, 59 percent of consumer clients seek a referral of some kind when they need a lawyer. On the corporate side, they are even more significant; Greentarget that both the C-suite and in-house counsel rely on “recommendations from trusted sources” most when scouting potential law firms.

Stark & Banner needs to reiterate to the market that it is ready, willing and able to handle bread-and-butter cases in its area of expertise – but the firm is understandably hesitant to launch a campaign that dilutes its standing as the firm of choice for complex matters. (And we’re not that keen on “Stark & Banner: Here for your run-of-the-mill-stuff, too.”)

When a marketing problem is this nuanced and complex, it helps to fall back on the fundamentals. Specifically, let’s look at the “Four Ps” of the marketing mix: product, price, place and promotion.

Product. Since the firm is targeting basic cases, there is a considerable opportunity to analyze this work and create a rich bank of knowledge; basic cases are more likely to be frequent and similar.

Stark & Banner can consult its various sources of data (intake, billing and timekeeping systems, among others) to learn:

  • Who is doing the work? How do the tasks break out between paralegals, junior attorneys and senior partners? What kind of capacity is necessary?
  • Where is the work coming from? Who are the specific referral sources that matter most?
  • How much does this work cost? How much does it cost to complete this type of matter – not in billing rates, but in actual cost to the firm?
  • What are the meaningful subtypes of this work? For example, does one jurisdiction take substantially more time and effort? Are we promoting one homogenous case “product,” or are there a number of them?
  • How long do these cases take? This doesn’t refer to attorney hours; think weeks, months, years. How long do matters last from matter opening to resolution? At what points are there bottlenecks or significant lags?

In addition to the quantitative information, the lawyers should think qualitatively too:

  • Why does this work matter? While every case is different, within this given area of focus, what are the common themes, stakes and client fears?
  • What happens next? After resolving these cases, are there complementary services required or common next steps? Does it make sense to bundle this work with anything else?
  • What are common misperceptions or client issues?
  • How could this be improved?
  • How are we better at this work than our competitors?

By answering these questions (to start), the lawyers at Stark & Banner will be empowered to make informed decisions about pricing and staffing, and they may be inspired to make process improvements that help internally and externally.

Price. Now that Stark & Banner has real data about the casework it wants to capture, it can consider new pricing options. The firm need not discount its basic work per se – but with data, it could calculate options for fixed fees. Again, the matters in question are frequent, similar and reasonably straightforward; they lend themselves to fixed fees. This alleviates a common client concern: According to Clio, 66 percent want an estimate of the total cost for their case.

Place. The firm should review its online presence to ensure that, big headline cases notwithstanding, it presents as an approachable option for people who need their basic services. It is a near certainty that a potential client will look at the firm’s website or search for “Stark & Banner” after receiving a recommendation.

Indeed, according to Clio data, while 59 percent of consumer clients seek referrals, 57 percent search on their own – and 16 percent did both.

What they are looking for:

  • 77 percent want to know the lawyer’s experience and credentials;
  • 72 percent want to know what kind of cases they handle;
  • 70 percent want a clear understanding of the legal process and what to expect.

Of course, the Stark & Banner website should trumpet its major accomplishments – but it should also show examples of the everyday work. The list of practice areas or services should present a menu of options that is easy for a non-lawyer to understand; website visitors can self-select the content most relevant to them, whether it’s for basic services or high-stakes matters.

Finally, the Stark & Banner lawyers can position themselves for more of the straightforward matters by providing educational resources for prospective clients (What to Expect, Frequently Asked Questions, What to Bring/How to Prepare, and the like).

At the same time, the firm should Google itself – are all of the first-page hits centered around the cases that are more the exception than the rule? Are the firm’s social media pages welcoming to the general public?

Promotion. We do not want to cannibalize the opportunities for high-stakes work; it’s critical to preserve the firm’s reputation in that arena. We would draw upon the work done for the Product and Price components to develop messaging that separates the basic work into something new – a subtle professional services version of a “flanker strategy,” like the Mercedes C-Class or Courtyard by Marriott.

Options to consider:

  • The new hires: Introducing them as the go-to contacts is a “news hook” that also preserves the Stark & Banner partners for major matters. The new attorneys can be introduced in coffee meetings, bar association publications, website press releases, firm social media and more, and positioned as the firm’s resources for this work.
    “Jane, I wanted to introduce you to John Doe, who joined our firm to handle X…please keep us in mind if you have clients or contacts who need help there.”
  • The new product: Did the research into the product lend itself to any revelations or process improvements? That’s a news hook, too.
    “Jane, we wanted to tell you about our firm’s new approach to X cases…”
  • The new price: If the firm did adopt a fixed fee or another new pricing strategy, that’s a great message for recurring referral sources and the website.
    “Jane, a lot of our clients have been asking for predictable pricing for X, so we have put together some options. Please check it out, and let us know if we can ever help your clients or contacts.”

In walking through the four Ps, Stark & Banner now has:

  • A firm handle on exactly what it’s selling – and ideas on how to do it better;
  • A price that’s more competitive – but not necessarily discounted;
  • A website that validates referrals and more effectively captures business from them; and
  • Messaging that encourages more of the basic referrals while maintaining the firm’s prestige.

The fundamentals are, well, fundamental for a reason: They keep the firm from chasing one-off tactics or trends, and they generate a marketing strategy that is thoughtful, well-rounded and authentic.

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