When a group of law firm partners discusses significant possible changes in their firm, at some point one of them often will say:

"But no other firm in our market does this..."

My colleagues and I usually have three responses when we hear this from one of our clients.

First, are you sure?

Upon further investigation, the assumption by a group of partners that nobody else is implementing a specific change or innovation often is inaccurate. Do not assume, just because the idea seems radical to you, that one of your competitors is not already considering a similar change.

Some of them may have already implemented it successfully; but you just don't know about it.

Second, do you really want your firm's actions to be governed by the inertia of your competitors?

The fact that no other law firm in your market does something (assuming that it not unlawful) is not a terribly persuasive argument. It is, at best, a piece of evidence for you to consider.

In recent years, many law firms have become fascinated by benchmarking. Benchmarking is a useful tool when it identifies practices that clearly are superior to others. Even then, so-called "best practices" often can be unreliable guides to what your firm should do.  

Above all, never "benchmark" your firm to the medians or averages. In the competitive markets for legal services, "median" is usually synonymous with "mediocre."

Third, remember that market leaders lead the market.

The risks of inaction in a maturing, highly competitive market for professional services are usually greater than the risks of innovation. You might avoid some risks by not being the first firm in your market to try a new approach; but you face the much greater risk of a potential competitive advantage that could be lost forever if you wait until another firm implements the new idea. In the market for professional servicess, experience and know-how can be the decisive factors in a client's selection of a law firm. If you execute your innovation reasonably well, being first to market allows you to build a record that newcomers will not be able to match -- at least not for some time.

In the law, as in any other business, one cannot lead a market from the second or third row.

Norman Clark


This posting is based on an article by Norman Clark that first appeared on 29 November 2011 in his blog "Herding Cats" at the Martindale Connected website.