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I was catching up on my blog-reading and came across a very interesting interview of Ron Pol on the impact of law firm branding (or, as it turns out, the lack thereof).

Pol relates an exercise in which he asks corporate buyers to identify their main outside law firm from a series of slides capturing the expression of those firms’ key differences. Among clients that spend millions of dollars with these firms and interact with them daily, not one could identify their main firm’s ‘unique’ brand differences. “It seems that firms’ efforts to distinguish themselves from their competitors may have had rather less impact than hoped; almost none.” He goes on to say that similar experiments within law firms showed that “not a single group of partners could identify even their own firm in a ‘line-up’ alongside their main competitors.”

He concludes by citing research that

“72 percent [of buyers] report no significant barrier to terminating their relationship even with their lead law firm…scratch the surface and, frankly, they could move on tomorrow without much prompting.”

“So, Coach,” you might ask, “What does any of this have to do with individual business development?”

That’s easy.

  1. If you’re in BigLaw, the days of counting on your firm’s brand to attract clients are over, if they ever existed at all.
  2. If you’re in SmallLaw, the advantage you perceived these big firms had over you is largely illusory.

Welcome to the rest of the world, where the salesperson reigns supreme.

Kidding aside, in mature industries, the battle is engaged on the sales front lines, among the ground troops whose ability to

  • position themselves and establish thought leadership on specific business issues of importance to a discrete group of buyers, and 
  • to help groups of stakeholders within those buying organizations make well-informed, timely, beneficial decisions, will determine who wins and who loses — every day.

Few lawyers are well prepared for this form of hand-to-hand competition.

The very good news is the English proverb about early birds and worms is apt. Those who commit to acquiring and applying the necessary skills can win big before most of their putative competitors even wake up to get started.

Mike O'Horo


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