Four years ago, we were talking about the “new normal” for law firms. It’s almost comical to believe that we’re still talking about it as if it’s new. It’s not.

Even at that time, Above the Law was telling us that the new normal was really more of the “old normal,” though if we’re honest, there is a lot to show that it really is more new than anything else. But that being said, Above the Law’s advice from four years ago still manages to hold true today. Many firms move at a glacial pace, so we can still be learning and adjusting based on their suggestions (which is a bit scary, but let’s just go with it). 

They’d developed some lessons for BigLaw over what we’d learned from 2009-2013, and those lessons are still valuable for mid-sized (and large) law firms today in 2017. Let’s take a look:

Listen to Your Clients

Above the Law says…

This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how often firms don’t listen to their clients. For example, before undertaking an expansion into a new geographical region or practice area, a firm should assure itself that there’s actually demand from its clients for the new services.”

We know that it’s a client’s market, so now more than ever it’s important to undertake the client opinion when making strategic business decisions. Many of our firms are even bringing in their clients when deciding about relocating or redesigning their office space, let alone when they are considering starting a new practice or industry group. How are you incorporating your clients into your firm’s strategic decisions, so that your future aligns more closely with their success?

Rethink Your Business Model

Above the Law says…

The advisory encourages firms to consider sending certain functions to outside providers or to less expensive parts of the country or the world; to provide transparent and responsible leadership; to pay attention to firm culture, using lateral hiring judiciously rather than indiscriminately; and to maintain a strong balance sheet. (Those last few items all sound like lessons learned from Dewey’s downfall.).”

Amazingly, this is still relevant advice, but we’d expand it to include looking at contract lawyers, artificial intelligence, alternative service providers, etc. The firms that get the most creative about partnering with their firms, and offering real business and legal solutions to their clients will be the most successful in the years to come.

Differentiate Yourself

It’s no longer sufficient to say that you’re a high quality law firm with talented lawyers – that’s what gets you admission to the table these days. This is just a fact. Above the Law says…

I talked about this a bit in my recent Bloomberg TV appearance. Firms need to figure out which areas to prioritize and which areas they’re going to stake their reputations on. The days of ‘pretty good’ regional firms that get business just because they’re there are numbered; firms need to figure out what their marquee practices are going to be. Why should clients go to your firm as opposed to the one down the street?”

Differentiation just by practice or industry is starting to no longer be enough. As we said in 2013, firms need to give their potential clients, and yes, even their current clients, a reason to hire their firm over all others. Everyone is hungry for business, so clients need to have a good reason to choose you over someone else. Differentiation isn’t just about marketing and branding – it’s about making a decision about the business model you’re going to pursue as a law firm. This goes beyond just niche marketing, but to the above point about how your firm’s business model is ferociously supporting your clients and their businesses.