How The Long Tail Applies to Law Firms

Thelongtail_1 For the next issue of Law Technology News Monica Bay, Editor-in-Chief, asked me how law firms can apply the lessons of the new book The Long Tail, Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson. This topic will be the cover story of the next issue. With her blessing, here's a sneak preview of my comments:

As I see it, a new book proves that the day of the full-service, general practice law firm is over.  Clients don't want generalists, whom they see as jacks-of-all-trades, masters-of-none.  They want an expert in their particular problem.  This is very good news for litigation boutiques, IP firms and specialty practice firms.

Clients want the needle in the haystack, the lawyer who knows how to solve their precise problem, and thanks to the Web, clients can find them.  For lawyers this means:

  • It's time to examine your client base and identify the industries in which the firm has experience (not the strong practice groups).  Clients, even the GC, see themselves as a member of an industry, not a customer of a practice group.  Industry experience is one of the first things clients look for on a law firm Web site.  Many law firms make the mistake of "marketing their organization," that is, using their internal administrative structure to shape their marketing and structure their Web sites.  This is a mistake. On the other hand, firms that market themselves as industry experts are "organizing around the market," and presenting themselves in the way clients buy.
  • It's time to identify the firm's high-margin, most-profitable practices and start blogs about them.  The prime example is the blog of Dennis Crouch, of Counsel at McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff in Chicago. The blog, "Patently-O," gets 50,000 visitors per week.  The blog has brought in Fortune 500 companies and referrals from lawyers he's never met.  He makes a point about writing about client interests, not about the services the firm has to offer.

The Long Tail illustrates why we no longer watch the 11 PM news and why we don't use the Yellow Pages anymore. People can get all this information online, immediately and up-to-the-minute.  Law firms that make themselves findable by pinpoint Web searchers will thrive.

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The Common Scold - August 10, 2006 10:33 AM
We're working on the Sept. issue of Law Technology News, and I'm really excited about our cover story, so I thought I'd give you a sneak preview. I'm not the only one who has become an instant evangelist for The Long Tail, Chris Anderson's wildly impor...
Attorney And Law Firms - August 19, 2006 5:23 AM
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Comments (3) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Alonso Sarmiento - August 10, 2006 9:45 AM

I am completely in agreement with you in the sense that the clients look for a lawyer who solves his specific problem. I consider that always it had thus to be, from the time of the origin of the lawyer profession; nevertheless, it is not necessary to forget that the lawyer is a professional in Law and must also know the other areas that concern the case which they put to its care. I think that the indispensable thing in a lawyer is its capacity of analysis and criterion, as well as a method and disciplines in application of the Law. In order to arrive at it, the lawyer to have to read to the classic ones, to study the reasoning applied to previous cases and to exert its capacity of imagination to find the specific utility for its client.

anon - August 10, 2006 9:59 AM

I agree with Alonso. The same procedural issues dominate 90% of all litigation, whether it be family law, commercial, torts, environmental, etc. That a lawyer who "specializes" in something such as, say, adoptions, or dog bite cases, or "complex" contract disputes, is necessarily any more effective than a "generalist" litigator is a farce. The issues that appear in cases accross the board are disputes over the rules of procedure and evidence. A good lawyer, who deserves to get hired by a client, can learn any substantive area (except perhaps extremely complex areas such as tax) in 8 to 10 hours with legal encylopedias or online research.

A lawyer should market herself as a "specialist" in dispute resolution and navigating the government-imposed "law" of procedure to get to the desired end result. Whether it is a divorce, environmental permitting dispute, contract dispute, is irrelevant to a good lawyer.

Smart clients can figure that out. In other words, a good lawyer can be a "specialist" in 12 different layperson "practice areas," because we lawyers describe our practice areas as overly-fact-based, to allow communication with laypersons, even though the facts or "type" of case are less important as far as getting to the end result.

Paul - August 16, 2006 8:26 AM

Interesting that anon chose to hide their identity, because they are dead wrong and have completely missed the point of the Long Tail (assuming they read it). Marketing yourself as a specialist in dispute resolution is, in effect, saying that you are a lawyer, but it says nothing about your expertise, experience, personal interests, big cases you've won or negotiated for clients, etc.

At the end of the day, most of us want to know that the people we work with are multi-talented, but when we go looking to solve a problem, we look for someone who has solved the exact problem before. Since marketing is about describing how you solve customer problems, a narrowly focused problem domain that is described in the customer's words is much more likely to get you qualified leads and enthusiastic customers than saying "I'm a generalist."

For example, let's say I was just attacked by my neighbor's pit bull. Do you think I'm going to go online and type in 'dispute resolution' as a query? If yes, I question whether you have the intelligence to handle any case I need litigated. Much more likely that someone will search for 'pit bull lawsuit' or 'vicious dog attack'. If one lawyer has talked about the evidence that a plaintiff needs to be successful in such a case in their blog, and shows up in the search as a result, which lawyer do you think gets the case - the blogger or the dispute resolver? I'll guarantee you that the generalist doesn't even get noticed, let alone get the call.

Unfortunately for anon, their thinking is like 99% of the rest of the world. It is focused on self - it is a features-oriented approach to selling, and in a world of differentiation, it simply doesn't work. Customer-centric marketing focuses on how the buyer thinks about the problem, which is almost never in terms of general skills and attributes. Of course, if all lawyers advertise themselves as generalists, then no one wins, but if only a few advertise as specialists, everyone else loses. It's simply the way the world works.

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