Competition among law firms is as brisk as ever. Gaining an advantage requires more than hard work-it requires strategic thinking that causes a firm to be different in a positive and noticeable way. Simply working harder or relying on strategies that performed in the past is not enough.
If business as usual is not sustainable and differentiation essential, firms must consider not being all things to all clients, must bring greater focus to their clients’ needs, become more efficient, cost-effective and value conscious. Firms also must consider advanced technology solutions, master project management, and “think outside the box.”
Firms seeking to differentiate face their old nemesis: change. To conquer change and drive differentiation, firms must have and/or use the following five things:
Courage. Differentiation means moving away from comfort zones. It means changing the way business is done with the possibility that there is no turning back. And it likely means narrowing service offerings and investing in specialization not invested in before. Differentiation can mean saying good-bye to practice areas and personnel that for years have been a part of the firm. Pivotal change like that takes courage. Without it, recasting a firm through differentiation is difficult.
Knowledge. The idea behind differentiation is not change for change-sake. It is focusing on a new direction that offers more promise. No new direction can be pursued without knowledge about the firm’s existing strengths, the opportunities in its markets, and the cost/benefits from pursuing a new direction. Mere hunches are not enough. Without a factually based and analytically tested plan, knowing whether the current state should be replaced by a future-state amounts to guesswork.
Judgment. When moving from the status quo to something else, forks in the road will be confronted. At those forks, critical decisions will need to be made. The exercise of sound judgment is essential if the path towards differentiation is to succeed. A firm embarking on a new and more focused way forward must be blessed with decision makers that have exhibited wisdom in the past. If leadership’s judgment is suspect or untested, outside advice should be sought to supplement in-house mind power.
Resolve. It goes without saying that a firm seeking to differentiate must believe in its strategy. When possessed with that belief, it is essential that the firm have the resolve to follow through on its plan. Because it will be moving away from the comfort of the status quo, and bumps in the road could be felt, the firm must remain confident it is new direction. As challenges are confronted, the firm’s commitment to the plan must be demonstrated by forging ahead. If resolve is lacking, for a whole host of reasons failure is more likely.
Leadership. A strong leader or leadership group must be in place before differentiation is possible. People being asked to invest in the new way, many less courageous or simply uncertain, will gain strength from leadership that believes in the path forward and acts in ways consistent with that belief. Strong persuasive attributes will be needed constantly as doubters, opponents, and uninformed overreact to challenges along the way.
Making your firm stand out is greatly aided by courage, knowledge, judgment, resolve and leadership. Does your firm have those attributes?