Hello- my name is Irrelevant.jpg

Have you considered that the language you’re most comfortable with, that you use without thinking, erects obstacles to getting the business you want? If you’re still using “lawyer language,” you might want to begin sounding less like you and more like your clients.

In a previous post, Things we say that make it hard to get business, I pointed out some common verbal habits that produce unintended consequences. In A game of Taboo: Lawyer business development technique, I challenged you to move beyond the obvious to get more creative with your descriptions. Continuing in that vein, it’s time to look more closely at our reliance on practice-group names and other noun-oriented expressions that undermine compelling communication.

Standard approach to practice descriptions

This is an actual practice description from a BigLaw website.

Our team is well prepared to counsel on the following areas related to autonomous vehicles:

  • Corporate compliance

  • Corporate transactions

  • Cybersecurity

  • Environmental

  • Data privacy and protection

  • Intellectual property

  • International trade

  • Insurance

  • Product liability

  • R&D financing

  • Regulatory compliance

“Well, now, it’s nice that you’re ‘prepared to counsel’. I’m better prepared to ignore.”

I’m sure you’ve seen lots of similar descriptions, likely at your own firm. But think the yawn that’d be hard to suppress if other businesses took such a spare approach:

  • Realtor: “Places to live”

  • Restaurant: “Food to eat”

  • Car dealer: “New and used cars”

You get the idea.

I don’t blame you for this habit. During the 20-odd-year run of fantastic demand for legal service, none of this mattered much. Everybody was buying legal services, and they were buying those nouns. You could even argue that those labels served as a kind of shorthand among inside- and outside counsel. Every industry has its jargon.

Nowhere near good enough now

However, in the uber-competitive conditions that will comprise the balance of your career, sticking with this dull form of expression represents a lost opportunity to differentiate. Especially when you let it creep into descriptions of your aspired role in a dynamic, emerging industry such as autonomous vehicles. It’s just plain lazy.

That AV space is exciting, fast-paced, and opportune. Those who populate it are disinclined to translate your broad label into anything meaningful to them. Which of the dozens of possible interpretations of “Insurance” do you want them to associate you with? How about Cybersecurity? The list above consists of extremely broad categories.

Resolve to do your part to make it easy for contacts, prospects, and clients to recognize your relevance and potential value. Translate these into demand-stimulating descriptions of problems that you solve, that those you wish to do business with are obligated to care about and seek solutions to.

This is what the conversation sounds like inside your clients’ and prospects’ companies. They’re not talking about “Intellectual property,” and “corporate transactions.” They’re talking about keeping competitors from copying their technology, or acquiring a company that has a product that will allow them to accelerate their strategy. They’re talking about the problems and challenges that give rise to demand for your legal services. If you’re not talking about what they care about, they’ll ignore you.

There’s a defensive consideration here, too. As you remind me every time I coach you, any company of size or sophistication already has outside counsel providing services in each category. The firm that does most of a company’s Employment work owns that label. Likewise for every other service label. If XYZ firm owns “M&A” at this company, when you say “M&A,” XYZ comes to the client’s mind. You reinforce the incumbent’s position.

Translate and expand

Take a look at your practice group description. If it’s populated by dead nouns, create a table that correlates each to more useful language.

Prac grp labels vs relevant problems.jpg

Lawyers reading this who practice in these areas, or who focus on the automotive sector, are doubtless chuckling at my amateurish examples, drawn as they are via quick Google searches ([legal service label + “issues automotive industry 2019”), but I hope you can get past that and take the larger point.

Next steps

The next time your practice group meets, get your colleagues working on a table of problems that correspond to your service offerings. Then, encourage and help each other form new speaking and writing habits that will align you with what buyers care about.

Mike O’Horo


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