The Stories We Could Tell: Differentiating Your Law Practice

Our friends at Attorney At Work promise “one really good idea every day.” Today, they’ve provided us with 12: specifically, they’ve given us a dozen ways to differentiate your law practice in a great post by Susan Saltonstall Duncan that will reward your time and attention. Read the whole list, and implement as many as you can.

To Susan’s original 12, I’d like to add a baker’s 13th, which is this: “Be yourself.” I don’t mean that in the self-actualizing, feel-good, special snowflake sense. I mean that differentiation is about providing a demonstrably unique feature for the market to consider — an interesting and attractive X-factor that the market can’t get anywhere else. You can try setting yourself apart with your accessibility, your pricing, your client experience, and so forth — but ultimately, other firms can replicate these efforts. What they can’t copy is you.

I’ve written here before about the importance of making your online fingerprint unique. But I recently came across an outstanding example of a law firm that publishes its lawyers’ fingerprints: allowing lawyers to tell their stories and open up about themselves and about what’s important to them. Check out the website for Graydon Head, a full-service law firm based in Cincinnati (HT to my friend Gerry Riskin, who alerted me to this site). The lawyers’ online biographies contain two elements: a fairly standard professional biography, and a companion section called “Read My Story.” This latter feature is really good.

Go to the firm’s Professional Profiles page, pick any lawyer at random, and Read Their Story. Each entry is an interview with the lawyer that frequently keys in on particular incidents in their lives or aspects of their personality that make them memorable, and that tie in not only with their decision to become a lawyer, but also with the kind of work they do and what they’re like to deal with as professionals and people. Here are a few excerpts:

A real estate lawyer: “On the evenings when Amanda’s mom was working, her father would read stories from the Bible or Mark Twain to the kids. If they weren’t good that day, their punishment would be no stories that night. So the kids were almost always good. She credits her father with her love of reading and wordplay. ‘Words should never be taken lightly,’ she says. ‘I’m very conscious of how words can be interpreted or misinterpreted. For me, it’s about communication. I put a lot of thought into the words I choose. It goes against my nature to just dash off an email.'”

An employment litigator: “At Georgia Tech, Brian was a sprinter. He ran his first marathon, the Flying Pig, in the spring of 2008. ‘All my life, I’ve been running short distances at top speed, so this was quite different. It felt good to set the goal, to set my mind to it and achieve it. … With the client, a good relationship makes it easier to understand each other’s perceptions. It also helps to have a good relationship with opposing counsel. If I have a weakness in my case, we can talk about it – which makes it easier to avoid all the gamesmanship that runs up the bill for the client.’ You could compare it to the difference between sprinting and long-distance running.”

A bankruptcy lawyer: “Jeff grew up on Cincinnati’s West Side, the son of a Cincinnati police officer, now retired. … He mentions a conversation he had with one of his dad’s cop buddies. ‘He likes to kid me, calls me a shyster. He asked me, “What do attorneys do that’s good for society?” I told him lawyers defend people’s rights. The best ones have handled the cases that have determined the direction our country has taken. That’s what I’m aiming for. I want to be a part of something important.'”

Every story is unique (and extraordinarily well-written, I might add), painting a memorable picture of the lawyer in a few paragraphs and tying his or her background, personality, interests or experiences into the law they practise and how they deal with the people they represent. That’s real differentiation — something every lawyer can do and that’s impossible to duplicate, because every lawyer has a unique story to tell.

What’s your story? Who are you, and how does it integrate with the kind of lawyer you are? Ask and answer those questions, and you’ll be even farther down the road towards true differentiation.

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