Do You Know the Four Competitors You Must Beat For a Successful Solo Practice?

Four FingersWhen I started practicing law in 1980, there were around 35,000 attorneys licensed in Texas. To some extent lawyers could make a comfortable living just by placing Yellow Pages ads or working for a long established law firm.  Today there are over 95,000 attorneys licensed in Texas. It’s a much different world for lawyers now. If you want to get beyond just surviving to thriving, you must do two things: 1) establish that your services have value to your clients, and 2) differentiate your practice from the crowd of competitors. How do you do that?

Your Four Competitors

First, recognize your competition. With regard to many of your potential clients, you may be competing with one or more of the following:

  1. Other lawyers
  2. Non-lawyer providers of legal services
  3. Do-It-Yourself clients or in-house counsel
  4. Inertia (failure to take any action)

I’ve asked hundreds of lawyers what differentiates them from their competition. Almost all of them say that it’s the quality of their work. News flash: you can’t all be better than the rest. Even if you do prepare better documents, give better advice, or take depositions better, can your client tell the difference? If your client can discern the difference, is that difference worth it in the client’s eyes over the next cheaper, faster or more convenient alternative?

Establish Your Value Proposition

You may be able to differentiate your services from many of your competitors simply by being able to clearly articulate your value to clients. It’s not easy to explain professional services and many lawyers do an abysmal job of describing what they do and why it matters. Mike Schultz, a sales consultant for professional consultants, describes three elements of a value proposition:

  1. Resonate: What you describe “speaks” to your clients and causes them to think, “Yeah! I need that!”
  2. Differentiate: A compelling reason that your solution, or your manner of providing it, is better than what is available from the four competitors described above
  3. Substantiate: Evidence that causes your clients to believe and trust that you will fulfill your promises

To determine your value proposition, dig beyond the surface to identify what your clients really buy when they hire you. What is the outcome they are trying to create? Write down how your services are different and better than each of the four alternatives described above. Do your best at articulating why your typical client would actually care.  If you aren’t sure about the answers to these questions, ask some of your former or existing clients why they decided to use your services. Even if you are sure, ask your clients anyway about their decision process. You might be surprised at their answers.

An Illustrative Client Situation 

By way of example, if you are an estate planning lawyer, your clients aren’t buying a piece of paper that says “Last Will and Testament” on it. They can get that at any office supply store, and a surprising number of people don’t really believe they need a will anyway. The ownership of that paper isn’t compelling enough to get you past any of your “Four Competitors.” Other potential clients may recognize that they need a will drafted by a competent lawyer, but contemplating their own death or issues related to it are too uncomfortable to tackle.  You can still get waylaid by Competitors #1 and #4 above.

Your potential client may be seeking the best solution they can craft to make sure that their children will get the kind of nurturing and care that they would have provided themselves, in the event the client meets an unforeseen tragedy. They are really buying protection for their children, a little peace of mind, and a legacy. A different client may want to protect an adult child with an addictive personality from squandering his inheritance. A third client may be most concerned with keeping lawyers and the government from getting their hands on too much of the assets they worked so hard to accumulate. All of them are buying some measure of control from beyond the grave, but for different purposes.

An Illustrative Value Proposition

Of course, you would tailor your description to your audience and your practice, but one value proposition might sound something like this:

“I’m an estate planning lawyer. I help my clients do all they can to get their wishes met when they can no longer speak for themselves. We strive to make the process of setting that up as easy, comfortable and worry-free as we can for our clients.”  That focuses on the outcomes that your client wants, aiming for resonance with their perceived needs, and may create an urge to take action.

As the conversation continues, the prospective client might ask how you do that. To differentiate your services and substantiate your claims, you might say,

“For example, we recently helped a couple with young children. Being “digital natives,” they loved our online library of articles addressing common client concerns and our secure client portal for sharing necessary information and communicating privately, all at times that were most convenient to them. They especially appreciated the suggestions we wrote in consult with a child therapist about how to choose the right guardian for minor children and when to have a separate financial trustee. When we met in person, we were able to devote all our time to listening to their remaining concerns and crafting solutions together. We gave them a fixed price and the date by which we would post the documents in their client portal for their review. On signing day, we also helped them create a video sharing the loving messages and values they wished to impart to their children.”

I can comfortably say that this lawyer would stand out to most clients I’ve encountered. Even if the prospects already had an estate plan, they would probably mention the lawyer to their friends. Does this stimulate any ideas for differentiating your law practice?

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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