Change #3: Indistinguishable strategies are…indistinguishable

Have you ever played the “Guess Which Firm’s Website!” game?  I have, and I recommend you try it when you have nothing better to do; don’t worry, you’ll get the point of the game inside of five minutes.

The rules are simple: Pick three or four firms at random, visit their websites, and pretend you can’t see the logo identifying the firm. Try to guess which firm it is.

Variation 1: since it’s awkward for most of us to ignore what’s plainly in front of our eyes (the logo), ask yourself what would have to change on the site if you were to swap in entirely different firm’s logo and identity. I’m talking about messaging, positioning, and true differentiators, not “mere facts” such as lawyers’ names and office locations.

I’ve taken a small random sample to spare you the exercise. These are paraphrases of key claims from four different AmLaw 100 firms’ sites:

  • Our lawyers share a common culture, supporting our firm-wide commitment to add value, achieve excellence, and promote professional development, as well as diversity and inclusion, pro bono service and community support.
  • We are a premier international law firm with a diversified business practice, more than XXX lawyers, and offices in A, B, C, D, [etc.]. We have over ZZ years of serving a broad range of client interests.
  • We are a global law firm with approximately XXX lawyers in YY offices. We are privileged to serve clients across the entire spectrum….
  • We are a full-service law firm distinguished by our highly collaborative, cost-effective approach…

Please do not waste time trying to figure out which firms these are or presume for a second that I’m picking on them: I’m  not. They were literally the first four that came to mind.

Before you think I tar all firms with the same brush, you can find exceptions: Firms that say something distinctive. But you have to look hard, and far and wide.

Here are two I particularly like:

Momentum. Movement. Forward motion.

That is what we do at Proskauer. It’s the foundation of any successful business. […]

It’s not enough to do good legal work. There are many firms out there and to be fair, most are capable of closing a deal or winning a case. It’s hardly surprising. We went to the same law schools, learned the same legal principles and passed the same exams.

So what do we bring to the table?

Our approach is not simply to “represent” our clients but to get into their heads.

“Get into their heads?” Fabulous.

Or this (Paul Weiss):

Statement of Firm Principles

Judge Simon H. Rifkind, 1963

Our objectives are, by pooling our energies, talents and resources, to achieve the highest order of excellence in the practice of the art, the science and the profession of the law; through such practice to earn a living and to derive the stimulation and pleasure of worthwhile adventure; and in all things to govern ourselves as members of a free democratic society with responsibilities both to our profession and our country. [And there’s more.]

Because these are so rare, they have the indelible ring of truth. Compared to the first four I cited?

Put yourself in a client or prospective client’s shoes.   How could you possibly form an opinion of the differences between these firms, not to mention which might actually best serve your needs?

I submit it’s actually worse than that. I bet partners of most firms couldn’t even identify their own firm based on unidentified excerpts from their websites.

“There’s a difference between a website and a strategy,” I hear you objecting?  Of course there is.

But without a window into the strategic planning process of a large sample of AmLaw firms, websites should represent a rough proxy for who they think they are, what makes them distinctive, and how they express their difference and position themselves.

The most important point is that strategy matters more than ever before.  If you haven’t seen these charts before (courtesy of the annual report out of the Citi Private Bank Law Firm Group), they should deliver that message more strongly than anything else I could say:

A  nice pretty concentration, no?

Now look at the post-Great Reset distribution:

Our clean concentration has dissolved. In other words, strategy now matters.

A strategy that’s a mishmash is no longer acceptable.

Loathe as you may be to admit it, I have news for you: If you can’t articulate it plainly and crisply to the world, as on your website, it’s a mishmash.

Stay tuned for Part 9.

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