At the heart of the relationship between a law firm and its clients are the legal services the firm offers or sells which must match the needs of its clients.
The process of creating this match is complex. The key question every law firm has to ask itself is:
“What will make a potential client want to buy legal services from our organisation as opposed to our competitors?”
The answer to this question is subject to a number of factors. Some of these factors are under the control of the law firm. Some factors are beyond their control. No matter how good a legal service is, environmental factors such as the economy, social factors, competition, technological changes and Government activities can affect the attractiveness of the organisation to potential clients. These are uncontrollable variables.
To make sense of these factors and to put them into context, a law firm can use ‘the marketing mix’ – a general phrase used to describe those elements in the control of the firm that can be used to satisfy or communicate with the client.
The marketing mix, commonly known as the 4ps of marketing, is usually defined as:
- Product (or service): What type and range of legal services should we provide?
- Place: Where should we provide our legal services?
- Price: What price should be set for each of our legal services?
- Promotion: How do we best communicate with our prospective clients and persuade them to buy our legal services?
Although the two terms are often used synonymously, they are not necessarily the same thing. Borden first used the term ‘marketing mix’ in 1953 and then McCarthy developed the concept in 1960 by introducing the 4Ps concept.
The significance of the marketing mix to law firms is that a successful ‘matching’ between the organisation’s capabilities and the needs of the client depends on clients being aware of the legal services on offer, finding them available and accessible, and favourably judging their attractiveness in terms of both price and performance.
If any element is missing or is inconsistent with the client’s needs, a sale or relationship will be difficult to achieve.
Let’ consider each element of the mix:
Product is the heart of the law firms marketing efforts. For law firms the product element encapsulates the ‘legal service’. The service is the ‘benefit’ that is being marketed. For example, the ultimate benefit to the client of a conveyancing service is that it helps the client purchase a home.
Unlike consumer products, legal services are intangible. This means that the legal service cannot be seen, tasted, felt, heard or smelt before they are purchased. A client involved in a commercial dispute cannot know the outcome before the end of resolution or a trial. As a result the client attempts to reduce any uncertainty by looking for signals of service quality. This could be physical evidence of the legal service provider’s offices, the quality of the legal service provider’s website or the physical appearance of the solicitors involved. The legal service provider could help by providing a ‘tangible representation’ that communicates:
- the service process
- the level of quality to be expected
- the outcome
For a conveyancing service, this could mean communicating:
- the service process: pre-exchange of contracts, exchange of contracts, completion
- the level of quality to be expected: estimated time to completion, response time to calls
- the outcome: contract completed, home purchased
- Products or services can have many aspects or attributes such as:
- Technical features – complexity of the legal service and range of features included
- Innovativeness – Extent to which the legal service includes new features or provided in a unique way
- Range – Availability of different legal services
- Customisation – level of detail to which a client can vary the service to suit their own needs and preferences (i.e. service could be delivered by Skype for disabled clients)
- Quality – how and to what levels the legal service is provided
When considering the ‘product’ element of the marketing mix, law firms should ask themselves:
- What does the client want from the legal service? What needs does the legal service satisfy?
- What features or service aspects does the service need to have to meet these needs?
- What does the service look like? How will clients experience the service?
- How does the service need to be branded/packaged?
- How can our service be differentiated from competitors?
- What is the most it can cost to provide, and still be sold sufficiently profitably?
Through the ‘place’ element, a law firm manages the process of providing the legal service to the client.
For example the law firm might decide that it will provide commercial legal services from a central city centre office so that it is close to central businesses. A personal injury practice or conveyancing provider may decide to operate on a local high street so that it benefits from passing or walk-in trade.
Place could also mean ‘distribution’, which implies maintaining co-operation between the law firm and distribution partners such as ‘affinity groups’ – selling and distributing legal services through channel partners.
Real world example
ABS Riverview Law has undertaken an affinity partnership with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) to provide discounted legal services to its 90,000 UK based members. This is a ‘channel’ through which Riverview Law and RICS together have chosen to make a legal service available and accessible. This is classed as a ‘place’ consideration.
When considering the ‘place’ element of the marketing mix, legal services providers should ask themselves:
- Where do prospective clients look for our legal services?
- Do they look online? Are they referred by an intermediary, and/or do they come directly?
- How can we access intermediaries, introducers or referrers of work ?
- Do we need to use a sales force? Or attend industry trade fairs?
- What do our competitors do, and how can we learn from that and/or differentiate?
Price determines the price that should be set for each legal service and provides the resources to spend on producing the service and on marketing activities needed to promote the service. Discounts and incentives can be used to make the legal service more attractive.
For example, systems of payment periods can make price and immediate budget constraints less of a problem for the client.
When considering the ‘price’ element of the marketing mix, law firms should ask themselves:
- What is the value of the service to the client?
- Are there established prices for certain services in this area? (e.g. £399 for conveyancing)
- Is the client price sensitive? Will a decrease in price gain us extra market share? Or will a small increase be indiscernible, and so gain us an extra profit margin?
- How do our prices compare with our competitors?
Promotion comprises the most visible instrument of the marketing mix and is the element of the mix by which the law firm communicates with its potential clients and audiences.
Promotion can utilise television advertising, sales or business development people, branding, public relations or social media.
When considering the ‘promotion’ element of the marketing mix, law firms should ask themselves:
- How, where and when can we get across our marketing messages to our target market?
- Will we reach our audience by advertising in the press, or on TV, or radio, or on billboards? By using direct marketing mailshot? Through PR? On the Internet?
- When is the best time to promote? Is there seasonality in the market? Are there any wider environmental issues that suggest or dictate the timing of our market launch, or the timing of subsequent promotions?
- How do our competitors do their promotions? And how does that influence our choice of promotional activity?
The promotion element of the marketing mix and the various methods in promoting a law firm is discussed here.
Law firms must learn to see the services they provide as flexible and being subject to development and adaptation.
The environment in which a law firm operates is never static. Law firms should keep asking themselves whether the services they provide are relevant and have desired benefits for today’s client needs.
Price is an area of marketing with potential for increasing profit. However, if managed badly, it can equally bring a law firm to its knees. There is a fear among law firms that unless they can offer the lowest price, they will not win clients. While this can be true for many law firms, it is rarely the case for market leading law firms. Successful law firms tend to rely on their high expertise, reputation, service quality, innovation and carefully managed business relationships to win clients or contracts. Other organisations without these advantages have to use price to obtain work.
The ‘marketing mix’ describes those elements within the control of a legal service provider that can be used to communicate with potential clients.
If the ‘marketing mix’ is not managed properly a law firm will not recruit new clients.
The ‘product’ covers the legal service element and can be varied in terms of quality, functionality and range.
The ‘price’ element is essentially the cost of the service to the client. This can be high or low, can involve a discount or can be affected by credit terms.
The ‘promotion’ element of the mix involves communicating the law firm’s capabilities and service offering to the prospective client and audience.
The ‘place’ element is the process of providing the legal service to the client.