We live in uncertain times and law firms face their own challenges in a market that continues to evolve. New entrants to the market, Alternative Service Providers, the march of the Big Four, the impact of technology and the challenges of adapting the Partnership model to the needs and wants of the next generation, all highlight how important it is for law firms to enjoy a strong profile.
Such a profile is formed by the classic business ingredients: having a solid and growing business, made up of the best people and clients and supported by a robust culture and brand. For me, the glue that holds all these elements together is reputation – how you are perceived by the audiences that matter most. The right reputation allows law firms to flourish in good times and be more adaptable to market changes and increased competition. It also allows firms to weather storms more effectively – particularly when faced with a crisis.
There are several tools that law firms can use to manage, guard and enhance their reputations. Over the next 12 months, law firms should be particularly conscious of doing the following:
Build and maintain a strong media profile
Traditional forms of media – such as national newspapers – still have a big influence on how the public forms its opinions. For example, the Financial Times – which reaches key boardroom audiences – has 714,000 digital subscribers as well as a print readership of over 175,000. Being quoted in such a publication as an expert is an exceptional way to establish and enhance your reputation among important decision-makers. Meet journalists and maintain sound relationships across the media and you’ll ensure your firm’s reputation remains healthy.
Create value with content and digital
New digital tools provide law firms ways they can easily connect with, and pre-empt the needs of, their clients. Online self-publishing platforms and social media provide vital channels for cementing a firm’s legal expertise and creating trust, and they work in tandem with more traditional media, too. For instance, use social media to share a recent commentary in a national newspaper or trade publication and you’ll amplify the utility and reach of the original article – in doing so, opening up the opportunity to strengthen relationships with followers and for followers to share work across their network.
Dedicate time to creating valuable thought leadership
Thought leadership – for example, large-scale research projects or reports – is an investment through which legal expertise can be demonstrated. For example, if your law firm specialises in mining disputes, commission a report on mitigating financial risk in mining disputes and your firm will stand out as a clear leader in that space. Creating informative, relevant thought leadership that anticipates clients’ concerns and predicts upcoming trends shows you care.
Adapt with the times
As societal norms change over time, so too does the culture of businesses. All firms have a responsibility to adhere to the required behaviour of the day, but law firms face a pronounced risk in failing to do so by way of the nature of the work they do. For example, if your firm is providing support for breaches of the Equality Act, does it also have robust LGBT policies? A strong reputation must have a foundation in authenticity; firms must live and breathe the values they stand by.
Develop an internal communications strategy
In the wake of the wider changes in the world of work, internal communications are an increasingly important means through which reputation can be elevated. For example, having clear agendas on internal policies like agile working and mental health can empower and focus employees to thrive. Facilitating a space in which ongoing, open discussion leads to policies that work for your talent will mean better employee engagement and wellbeing, in turn improving your firm’s output and internal reputation.
Prepare crisis management communications
It is often said that a crisis is the real test of any organisation’s reputation. As part of any sensible contingency planning they carry out, law firms should also be devising communications strategies around seen and unforeseen crises that may impact their business. Thoughtful crisis communications, put to the test regularly, is not just a defence mechanism; it is also a tool your firm can use to preserve and, in some cases, even enhance its reputation.
In a saturated market, law firms can use reputation as a means of differentiation from competitors. When incorporated in the right way, reputation can be a powerful instrument of brand strategy for law firms in their approach to the challenges of the months ahead.