Managing law firm reputation
Even within the same law firm it is difficult, even for partners, to really judge the legal quality of the individual partners. Within the same firm there will always be partners who have never cooperated on a matter. If this is the case, it is not hard to see that for the market it is nearly impossible to asses the quality of a lawyer or a firm. That is why reputation is so important.
Building a reputation for your firm will help create an image of the quality of your firm. Even for people who may never have met and who never worked with your firm. On a global scale most people in the industry would accept that Wachtell Lipton is probably the best law firm in the world for Corporate work. The fact that the vast majority of us has never actually worked with Wachtell or even met one of their partners does not really matter. Wachtell Lipton has gained a rock solid stellar reputation.
The legal market is rather nontransparent. Even experienced lawyers do not have a complete overview of the other lawyers in their home jurisdiction. Perhaps they would know most of their peers in the same practice area, but outside their own practice area it will already be more difficult. This is also the case with clients. In-house counsel have a limited number of lawyers they know actually well enough to have a fair judgement on their quality. That is why reputation is so important: we build our initial judgement on reputation.
Building a reputation There is no escaping: every law firm has a reputation. This could vary from ‘never heard of’ to ‘they are absolutely the best’ and anything in-between. If your firm has a reputation anyway, then it better be the reputation that you want it to be. Surprisingly most law firms are very poor at actively managing their reputation.
Building a reputation is not the same as launching a new website, being active on social media or doing some advertising. I don’t know if you have ever visited the website of Wachtell Lipton (http://www.wlrk.com/) but its as outdated and boring as it can get. No market insights, no blogging, hardly any visuals an not even https (so it is marked as ‘insecure’). I do not recall Wachtell has done any advertising either. This is equally the case for firms like Cravath and Sullivan & Cromwell (although they do have https) that are equally boring. So stellar reputations can be build an maintained without any modern marketing.
The ‘code of the category’ Building a reputation is a dark art. At TGO Consulting we call this positioning. It is the process of building a brand personality and communicating this to the -relevant- world. The first step, defining a personality, is arguably the most difficult. The problem being that all law firms desperately want to be the same. If we look at the websites of law firms the majority will state that they are very client driven, provide hands on advise, have tons of experience and expertise and deliver incredible service. If everyone is telling this, it is obvious that this won’t get you anywhere.
Knowledge of the law, client focus and service are what we call ‘the code of the category’. It’s your entry ticket to being a business law firm as without it no law firm can survive. Stating the ‘code of the category’ as part of your positioning is like an airline claiming that their planes are safe. Off course they are. If they were not, the airline would not be allowed to fly.
TGO Consulting Reputation Index Since we operate globally we from time to time get clients in markets where we have not worked before. In order to get a quick assessment of the reputations in different markets, we have developed the TGO Consulting Reputation Index. This is a method that visualizes the reputation of the leading law firms in a specific market. The method takes into account full service firms as well as nice firms.
The visual above this article shows what this looks like for Norway, Netherlands and Switzerland. It is important to understand that reputation is not the same as brand recognition. Brand recognition just measures how many relevant people know the name of a firm. It says nothing about the quality perception. On the contrary, law firms with a high brand recognition typically do not get the top score as it comes to reputation. Reputation is also not the same as profitability although there is a stronger connection here than with brand recognition.
If you are interested in the Reputation Index for your country, drop us an email and we will send it to you for free. Most countries we have readily available.
Start managing your reputation today! So how should you start building a reputation? That is actually a difficult question to answer. For some law firms it is just a matter of be good and tell it. The problem is that for most law firms this would not work. You need a seat at the table to get a seat at the table. Meaning that the most complex and profitable matters that help build a solid track record and reputation are handed out to the firms that are already doing it.
So the rest of us should just carefully build a track record as this is maybe the most important factor in building a reputation. For building a relevant track record you will need a strategy. It is important to get focus in the matters that you publicly communicate. If for instance your aim is to build a reputation as the leading firm in sustainable energy, your track record should clearly reflect this. As long as your track record is all over the place, you will never succeed.
Once you have clearly defined your goals and have (aggressively) invested in building that track record, it is time to start communicating and walking the talk. Continuing with the ‘energy example’ this could mean, being interviewed, writing articles, speaking at events and so on. The whole world must see you are the energy experts. In communication do not forget to include the legal directories as they are in part instrumental in reaching your goals.
Whatever you do, avoid ‘the code of the category’ and don’t start with a new website or a glossy brochure. In case of doubt, talk to us.