The following blog on law firm niche marketing appeared on the Lexis Nexis “Future of Law” blog today

I suspect that few lawyers will own up to watching the US TV programme “Pimp my ride” where cars are given the full bling treatment for everyone to admire. You could think of lawyers “pimping their ride”. They hone (shine) their specialist skills so that they become top of their game for others to look to in wonder.

But it’s inward looking and rather misses the point in today’s market. All good lawyers have pimped their ride. So the issue is where you drive your pimped up car – or lawyer – in order to attract the right sort of attention from the right sort of clients? You may be the very best lawyer in a particular field of expertise but if clients don’t know about you or can’t find you then your time sheet will remain empty. You need a “go to market” strategy – and it’s linked to your positioning.

Marketing starts on the outside. It considers the market and the emerging needs of clients. Then it moulds or creates a product or service to meet those needs whilst making a profit. And in this day and age, you need to focus on a specific segment of the market – both so that you can achieve some space between you and the competition and also because what underpins today’s successful marketing – unless you are one of the biggest players in the market with almost unlimited resources – is niches.

As it happens, most contemporary business writers (eg Purple Cow by Seth Godin) and marketing experts (eg Inbound marketing – Get found using Google, social media and blogs by Brian Halligan and Sharmesh Shah) are strong advocates of the niche approach.

Marketing professionals in the legal market have long known this and have tried to promote a segmentation approach. Some were successful – look at the increase in the number of sector groups. Outside the Magic Circle, the firms that are most well-known usually dominate a particular niche – whether that is media, telecoms, property, health or insurance. Or something else – perhaps driven by a particular topical issue.

Law firm niche marketing

The thing is, to develop a strong niche marketing strategy you need some things that prove somewhat hard for most of the legal world:

  • Data – Forget big data. Start with the basics and aim for a comprehensive list of lawyers’ existing clients, referrers, contact base and targets. And in addition to address and email details, for effective segmentation you need information like location, market sector, size of business, their markets/customers, buying processes, key decision makers and influencers, source, relationship history and value delivered. No data = no segmentation.
  • Commercial knowledge – Most research says that clients want their lawyers to have deep commercial knowledge of their industries and business processes. They want their lawyers to know as much about the issues they face as they do. And to speak their language. This is the only way you can empathise with clients, identify their (business) pain and develop service solutions that have a commercial impact. How many lawyers are avid readers of their niche’s specialist media? How many attend as many industry events as their clients? How many can talk knowledgeably about the specific issues facing their segment and even point clients to the way things are likely to go? How many have research and knowledge systems that produce commercial knowledge to the same quality as legal knowledge? Similar issues apply to those serving consumer markets.
  • Choice and focus – The temptation is to try and be all things to all (wo)men. This works against good strategy. Trouble is, when you state that you work exclusively with one type of segment you imply that you don’t work with others. Most lawyers want to be opportunistic and keep their options open to work for just about anyone who comes knocking at their door. But a good niche strategy requires you to tailor your service and message to that niche and decline (or refer to others) work outside that focus.

So it’s time to stop pimping your ride and get on with niching your market strategy. Law firm niche marketing rules.