With the current appetite for national rebranding and an increase in ‘opportunities’ for franchising, many law firms are considering their options. Is it better to invest in your own destiny or join a national brand or franchise for the same sort of investment?

Whilst there can be no doubt that a national brand has merit there are considerable numbers of law firms who wish to maintain their independence in their geographical location or specialist niche area.

Until now few law firms would probably have genuinely considered the value in their own brand.

Yet, whilst longevity is no guarantee of success, there is significant value in the brand relationship law firms have with their clients and customers.

Certainly some law firms will need to make an investment in developing their brand, including upgrading websites, technology and basic marketing of their products and services to their client base. In many cases this has never been previously addressed.

Productising and bundling of legal services is already happening and the introduction of insurance- backed services will change the relationship with the client to a less transactional one by maintaining more regular contact.

Thinking and marketing legal services as a supermarket or bank would market their services is surely the way forward? One of the first exercises for a law firm setting out to make the most of its brand is to evaluate its customer base.

Understanding the difference between who is a client and who is a customer is essential for knowing where to invest your marketing budget.

A customer shops around and will buy on price whereas a client expects and demands high client care and will, generally, willingly pay a premium for this additional service.

A number of years ago the banks started to appreciate this differentiator and recognise that they could not afford to provide client-based service to customers.

If you wish to be a ‘client’ of a high street bank today you pay for that privilege and they will levy a monthly charge for the opportunity to have a bank manager, but what they do offer is value added to these accounts.

Many Private banking clients receive breakdown cover, credit card protection and travel insurance and these added value products encourage many of us to maintain this relationship with our banks for that reason alone.

Many law firms, however, fall into the trap of trying to provide client-led services to those customers who are buying services on price.

Expecting and demanding time and exceptional client care demands a premium on your services. If you have genuine clients they will pay for the relationship.

As the world of commoditised legal services is with us you will never maintain your independence by competing on price alone – your unique selling point has to be ‘world class service’ at a premium price.

Additionally, coming up with offers such as ‘buy one get one free’ within an agreed time scale will also encourage your clients to remain in regular contact. Finding those hidden added values in your practice will help maintain your clients.

Once you have evaluated your client base and identified where to market your services it is essential that you invest in a client relationship management system (CRM) that will enable you to regularly communicate with these clients with a variety of special offers, newsletters, topical news items, seminars, webinars and basically anything else that allows you engagement with clients.

I would recommend that commercial clients should be contacted around 10 times a year and private clients on around six occasions.

The pro-active independent practice will be investing in its future by marketing these new packaged services via an interactive website with a newsfeed keeping clients informed of changes in the law.

Web-based services to attract ’ Y generation’ clients are useful but not essential, however special offers and downloadable pdf documents offering help and guidance need to be changed monthly if you want to encourage your clients to re-visit your site on a regular basis.

The use of loyalty cards, which are growing in popularity, is another way of encouraging clients to buy other services from you and recommend you to their friends and family.

If you have considered joining a national brand or one of the growing numbers of ‘work getters’ of which there are new entrants on a regular basis you will need to explore if any of these have lived up to their promised expectations of work to date.

I have no doubt that we will see national brands offering legal services in the future. If this is your choice then it’s probably sensible not to expect any quick fixes – growing and developing a national brand is a long term project.

Spending your hard earned cash on your own brand and marketing to your existing clients will allow you to maintain your independence and be in control of your own destiny.

What you cannot do.........is do nothing!