Developing a strong value proposition in law
Investigating the value propositions of leading law firms in the USA.
We know that a value proposition is a key pillar in articulating why a client should use a particular firm.
Yet in the legal sector, 95% of what law firms offer (and say) to clients is pretty much the same – expertise, services, often even sectors. So how do firms build their brand on a value proposition that has meaning and difference?
When it comes to understanding what is compelling about your firm, it’s critical to uncover that 5% of difference – whether that’s your heritage, your reach, your way of working, your sector specialism, your focus on innovation, your ability to serve a particular client base, or simply your ability to recruit and retain the finest talent!
We can’t stress how important wordsmithing is in this process – the ability to use words that create instant connection with your audience. But also to embody that in a phrase that attorneys in your firm can repeat and relay to clients, with belief and meaning.
We looked at the Top 100 of law firms in the US and what they say about themselves, and which value propositions stand out. We characterised them into the following groups, based on their competitive context:
- Top 10 – the biggest firms of all, with a focus on coverage and client success.
- Elite – those who put a premium on excellence and quality.
- Bay Rollers – a small group of firms who align themselves to big tech and innovators.
- Global Players – big firms for whom global coverage is as important as service and navigating complexity.
- Big in America – the national players across the US, for businesses of all sizes.
- Pure Players – niche firms in a sector or specialism.
We have focused on a stand-out proposition for each category; we are judging purely on wording and positioning, not on the veracity of the claims! In the interests of being fair and unbiased, we haven’t featured any of our own clients or the work we’ve done with them.
The firms with the biggest revenue understandably try and cover a number of client triggers – excellence, coverage, results – to show that they are able to deliver for the very biggest of organisations. Latham & Watkins does this with a real sense of authority.
“Latham & Watkins brings together the world’s best legal talent in every major jurisdiction to shape the deals and win the disputes that transform markets.”
It is as much the tone as the precision of the wording that commands attention and shows that this firm is one of the key players in the market. If only it was a little shorter.
There are some firms that principally focus on ‘excellence’ as the primary differentiator. We have called them the ‘elite’ – and one firm emerges from this group. Sullivan & Cromwell makes this boast, but certainly seems to back it up.
“Sullivan & Cromwell provides the highest quality legal advice and representation to clients around the world.”
Now, on the surface of it, this claim may seem fairly vanilla, but it is this point (fairly unusual in our experience) that serves to cement this promise – “the Firm promotes lawyers to partner almost entirely from among its own associates”.
There are a number of firms we have called the Bay Rollers. Of course, they do much more than work in the Bay Area or in tech, but a key part of their positioning is how they look in the eyes of the Big Tech and related companies. Cooley stands out here, with:
“Power innovation, defend success.”
Short, to the point, memorable, and plays to its key audience – helping big tech grow yet retain their IP.
Many big firms position themselves as global, showing that ‘coverage’ is an all-important trigger for clients around the world (especially in an increasingly complex environment).
“Linklaters is a global law firm focused on bringing legal certainty in a changing world.”
What stands out for Linklaters is this focus on certainty in a changing world – which isn’t too far away from Freshfields ‘make the right decisions in a fast-changing world’ but said with more precision. How much better to offer ‘certainty’ over ‘right decisions’. Again it’s the wordsmithing that matters.
Big in America
We were tempted by the show-stopping line of Milbank – “The merger of excellence and grit” – but we weren’t sure if this alluded to a previous merger or a disappointing oyster lunch.
Trottman Pepper doesn’t reach for a showstopper; in many respects, this is pretty standard.
“Troutman Pepper guides clients from startups to multinationals in their most critical legal and business matters.”
What attracted us to this statement is that it does what it says on the tin; and in the use of the word ‘guides’, it feels more welcoming, particularly for a Main Street client base as well as high-growth companies and multinationals. The next step is, how do you make this proposition more memorable and more differentiating?
For Pure Players, there is normally a glaringly obvious differentiator. Your sector. Your location. Your focus on litigation.
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan makes no bones about it – and if you are involved in costly litigation, there’s no doubt a great temptation to back this horse!
“There is a winner and a loser. We know how to win.”
Ashurst recently rebranded and have certainly been bold with their “outpacing change” message and a powerful new look.
Proskauer Rose hit us with “For success. For progress. For good.”, which sounds great, but when law firms start talking about ‘for good’, we wonder whether clients start to roll their eyes. However, Proskauer does seem to back it up with some fine awards as a place to work.
Finally we enjoyed the sheer brazenness of Greenberg Traurig’s “GT means go-to”…. It’s certainly a conversation starter.
If you’d like to find a value proposition that connects with your client base, yet puts some clear space between you and your competitors, contact Henry@106comms.com