How to Stand Out From the Crowd


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Imagine a world in which you were prohibited from saying anything on your website that your competitors could also say. Would your website be a blank white page?

Lawyer marketing tends to be painfully uniform. We all say the same things in the same ways. It’s not just unhelpful: it’s counterproductive.

Our marketing is intended to attract clients. But by saying what others in the marketplace are also saying, we’re making it impossible for prospective clients to differentiate us from one another.

The lawyers I talk to tell me they’re better than the rest. They give me examples of the service lapses or mistakes of their competitors. They’re sure they’re doing it right and the competitors are doing it wrong.

But when I confront lawyers with the reality of their marketing, they tell me that there’s nothing unique or special or different about their firm that they can define or articulate. They explain that they have no choice but to say the standard things said by everyone else.

Here’s why you aren’t getting the attention you deserve

Join me, just for a moment, in my alternate universe.

Let’s agree to adopt a rule that prohibits you from saying that you’re “excellent, experienced, and affordable.” Let’s ban “we devote the time and attention it takes to advocate for the best solution for you.” No one can say “we use a team approach to help you achieve the results you deserve,” or “we don’t just support our clients; we are behind our communities.”

What if you had to say something about your law firm that made it different from the others? In this alternative marketing universe, your firm would only be permitted to speak if you had something special to say.

Prospective clients want to know

The reality is that this ‘fictional’ universe is the world we live in. Sure, you’re ‘allowed’ to say the same things as your competitors, but you might as well not bother. Those things are invisible. Your pages filled with “excellent, experienced, and affordable” are blank to the reader. You might as well leave in the lorem ipsum text and stock photos that came with the theme. In fact, you might as well just leave in the fake address and Business name here in the title bar. There’s no there there. They say nothing. They are erased in the minds of prospective clients.

When we all say the same things, it’s like we’re all saying nothing.

We aren’t helping prospective clients pick a lawyer, and we’re not attracting the attention of potential clients.

The net effect of everyone marketing to the same people, in the same way, saying the same things, is zero. We have no impact.

Lawyers who are unwilling to distinguish themselves are unhappy with the marketing results, and more importantly, prospective clients are unable to find those who can truly be of service.

Be bold or be invisible

I know it’s not popular when I talk about fear. But when it hurts prospective clients in their quest to find help, it has to be said. We need to say things in our marketing that help clients make good choices. We’re all different. Prospective clients need to see and understand those differences so they can pick the best lawyer for their case.

But we’re not willing to step up, step out, and explain the differences. We don’t want to say the wrong things about ourselves or our competitors.

We’re afraid that we’ll tell people things about us that they won’t like, or won’t respect, or won’t admire, so we go with the safe things all the other lawyers say. We abandon our individuality, and conform, because we’re not comfortable with what others might think about us.

We think we need to be safe, so that nobody can think bad things about us. But realistically, nobody is thinking about us anyway. We haven’t given them anything to think.

Marketing without handles for our critics to grab onto means that our clients
can’t grab on either.

Standing out means being different

I’d suggest you adopt my rule. Never say anything that someone else can say. Limit yourself to things that only you can say. Find things to say that are unique about your firm. Make yourself special. If there really isn’t anything special about you, then do something or be something or think something different. Make yourself special.
Try these ideas:

1. Tell your story

This is the simplest way to be different. No matter how boring you think you are, you’re not. We love the drama of other people’s lives. Something as trivial as the stress you encountered growing up in your neighborhood captivates us. We want to hear your formative stories. You’re used to your own stories, because they’ve played a thousand times in your head. We’re hearing them for the first time. You’re the only person who can tell your story. You’re the only person with your point of view. You’re the only person who knows exactly what you know.

2. Have a personality

You’ve got a personality in real life. Why does it disappear in your marketing? One lawyer I love has a big personality. He’s physically big, an academic nerd, a hillbilly who fancies himself a gourmet with discriminating taste in Scotch, who spends his free time at Alabama football games. His boring lawyer bio says he speaks professionally, likes to travel, and is married with children. In real life, he’s a weird blend of a bit from column A and a bit from column B twisted in with a zinger or two from column C. But in his marketing, he’s the anonymous lawyer character from TV who opposes the star and loses all the cases to the hero. We’re all like my friend–we’re all a little weird, each in our own way. People want to know.

3. Be empathetic

Feeling the pain of your prospective client and being able to tell their story will take you far in the world of being different. Most lawyers focus on solutions. Great marketers focus on problems and can tell the story of their prospective client even better than the client themselves. Tell their stories so well that they see themselves clearly, feel their own pain even more powerfully, and find tears welling up in their eyes as they read your words. Even those of us who aren’t experiencing that exact pain will find ourselves choking up with your story of how much it hurts.

4. Speak their language

Demonstrate that you get it by saying it their way. Stop talking like a lawyer and start talking like a person. Step into the mind of your prospective client, whether she’s an insurance company general counsel or a truck driver. Speak her way and demonstrate your capacity to connect. She doesn’t care that you were on Law Review. She cares that you seem like someone to whom she can connect and relate. She’s sharing her big problem with you, and she wants to know that you speak her language.

The truth will …

I remember writing things like this on my website: “Some lawyers hated us, others thought we were crazy.” I worried, at the time, that telling the truth would damage my reputation and cost me money.

The truth is scary. I remember writing this line and fearing what others would think. I was wrong.

It’s still a sentence on the law firm website now, years after I sold the firm.

Why is it still there? Because the truth will …

  1. Make you money
  2. Distinguish you in the market
  3. Build trust

My old competitors tout their years of experience, affordable fees, and excellent service. I said things differently. I went with:

“Lawyers are scary. Not fangs and a cape scary, they’re scary because the law is scary, and they seem to make everything too opaque with legal terms and negotiations. Plus, they all seem to know each other – How do you know they’re not just making deals as favors to their friends?”

Did that line cost me some lawyer friends? Probably. Did it help clients pick the right lawyer? Did it grow our business? Did it help me sell my profitable law firm? Yes, yes, and yes.

What’s unique about you?

We’re all different. Keep in mind my imaginary world, with its special rule: you are prohibited from saying anything on your website that your competitors can also say. Of course, this rule extends to all of your marketing, whether it’s advertising, speaking, networking, social media, or anything else. Force yourself to be different.

You’ll need to dig deep, find the gems, pull them out, and shine them up. You may need help from someone untarnished by a history of helping lawyers market their practices–someone who thinks differently. Then you’ll need to face the fear you feel when you hit the publish button.

Being unique is powerful. It’s marketing on steroids. It’s marketing that’s not invisible; it helps clients make good choices and delivers the business you deserve. Say something different. Don’t be afraid anymore.

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