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5 reasons why regional legal firms struggle with brand positioning

Posted by Nick Whyatt on

Lady Justice Statue

If you think that regional legal firms follow a similar line when positioning their brand, here’s some of the reasons why:

#1 – Getting the board and the fee-earners involved in a branding project is very difficult

Branding can be viewed as an external exercise only, a lick of paint, rather than a process of internal, as well as external, definition. This means that involvement gets pushed downwards, away from the fee-earners who have fees to earn. In turn, this results in the process becoming more about visual identity than about where the business wants to position itself strategically.

#2 – Compelling differentiation gets softened

Almost all regional firms offer a similar broad spread of legal services including domestic and commercial services that are delivered in a similar way. To come up with a big idea – a reason why, in these circumstances, X has a more compelling proposition than Y is really hard, so instead softer generic messaging about longevity and being caring and respectful usually prevails.

#3 – Specialism can be divisive, so is avoided

Any real specialist messages get buried by pushing lists of sectors and services regional firms cover. Most do have individual specialists in certain areas, but too much focus on one can take focus away from another, so the overall message becomes one of a generalist.

Also, a broad client-base means that at either end of the scale you may have a building full of staff doing small conveyancing jobs or accident claims and a big commercial client spending hundreds of thousands a year. The commercial client might not respect the firm as a specialist in their sector quite as much if they know that actually the high-volume work provides so much of its income.

#4 – The ambition has already been achieved

If the aim of a firm is to sit in a holding position in the region it’s based in and it does. And if this goes unchallenged for a long time, where is the impetus to consider positioning?

There are common triggers that start companies thinking about brand if they haven’t done much before; usually changes in the competitive landscape. Apart from the threat of ‘Tesco Law’ a few years ago and the rise of the Quality Solicitors scheme, which led to some legal firms considering their competitive position more seriously, the sector on a regional level appears largely unmoved.

#5 – Clients are acquired and largely stay put

Again, relating to the impetus to act; once a client trusts their legal firm they tend to stay loyal, even if the practice is acquired by another – which is quite a common method of regional legal firms achieving growth in quite a saturated market. If the firm continues to expand and retain its client-base in this manner, there is less emphasis on the need to tackle the issues surrounding brand beyond ensuring the signage is changed once the keys are handed over.

Conclusion

It’s well within the grasp of a regional legal firm to position itself as something other than ‘big and/or long-standing multidisciplinary practice that cares about and respects you’, but it does need:

  • The involvement of the whole firm, not just marketing or office managers
  • A commitment to some specialist messaging if appropriate, or at the least, clear segmentation
  • Ambition to achieve something more than ‘business as usual’
  • The understanding that a brand isn’t a tangible asset, but can still be one of the most valuable things a company has

If a regional firm gave the time and resources to exploring and defining its position succinctly, it would have an edge that few are taking advantage of.

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