By Mark Homer
In a recent issue of Law Practice Magazine, I enjoyed an article by Katy Goshtasbi, titled “Increasing Law Firm Profitability by Instilling Values.” In this article, Ms. Goshtasbi discusses how and why understanding and holding true to your firm’s values will lead to successful growth.
Ms. Goshtasbi says this in her article, “Once lawyers are clear about who they are, why them and where they fit into the law firm, then we can take their brand and market it to the target audience.”
She follows with this pertinent point, “…75 to 90 percent of everything we buy is not based on content, but on how we feel about the content.”
Defining your values, and how you do what you do is critical to the growth of your law firm. Your expertise in handling a case is critically important in getting results, but the values you portray to the client throughout the process deeply affects how they feel about you and your law firm, which affects how they will review and refer your firm. And when it comes to the referral, word of mouth marketing, much of law firms’ future business growth is still generated through these sources.
As an agency that helps clients with their online reputation management, we have read many online reviews, and the majority of complaints are typically not that the lawyer did not represent them well, but that they were treated rudely, or could never get a call back, did not know what was going on, etc. These reviews are a reflection of that firm’s values, or lack thereof.
How to Define your Firm’s Values
Ms. Goshtasbi’s proposed values for law firms are very broad; this was one point with which I disagreed. In my experience you need to dig deep and determine your core values and work with your team to come to an agreement.
Experts recommend having no more than five core values. More than that and you haven’t really taken the effort to pare down to the few that matter.
Many years ago, I read a great way to think about this in an article in Harvard Business Review by Jim Collins titled, “Building Your Company Vision” that I still refer to people today. Mr. Collins says this about getting down to your real core firm values: “Remember, the values must stand the test of time. After you’ve drafted a preliminary list of the core values, ask about each one. If the circumstances changed and penalized us for holding this core value, would we still keep it? If you can’t honestly answer yes, then the value is not core and should be dropped from consideration.”
Communicate Values through Brand & Team
Once you feel your core values are understood, you then need to make sure they are practiced and rewarded constantly. These need to be understood by everyone; not just the key partners; everyone who represents your firm, from the paralegal to the administrative assistant.
Law firms that have a strong understanding of these values make it a lot easier for an agency like ourselves to create brand strategy, design, and website copy that communicates those values to prospective clients. This leads to clients that hold similar values being attracted to your firm in greater percentages, which becomes a strong reinforcement for referral business and positive online reviews. You didn’t dramatically change anything; you just made sure everyone you hire and work with knows how to live your firm’s values.
We Practice what We Preach
At GNGF we have spent considerable time and effort distilling down to our core values. We have also learned that this is not a one-time effort, we spend significant time in our yearly planning meetings and even each quarterly session to review our core values and confirm, adjust, or even sometimes, replace.
Our core values are statements:
1. Transparency: Communicate openly to each other and our clients, even when it is tough.
2. Empathy: Passionately care about each other and each one of our clients.
3. Integrity: Do the right thing, always.
4. Adaptability: Rapidly adapt to change.
5. Be Awesome: Finish strong, and have fun!
I don’t have space in this article to go into detail about each of these core values and examples of stories of our team representing them, but everyone in the organization knows what they are, and they are regularly discussed and practiced.
For example, it is very common that marketing vendors will utilize pay per click as an extra profit center. These vendors tell a client a certain amount will be paid to run the campaign, but not reveal how much is paid to Google for actual ads. Then once the client seems happy with the results, instead of focusing on increasing leads, they refine the campaigns to get a lower cost per click for the same amount of leads, and keep the difference as profit. But this goes against our value of Transparency. When it comes to PPC, we feel we are providing a service managing the campaign and are being paid to drive as much quality leads to your firm as we can with the agreed upon budget. If we feel you could do better by spending more, we have an open, transparent discussion, but our fee always remains a straight percent of the advertising spend. Not only does this match our values, but it is also the values Google suggests as a best practice for their Google certified agency partners.
We have had countless other examples of following our core values to run as a value driven, ethical agency. I am proud of how strong our team holds to these values and was happy that they received recognition last year for this effort by winning a Torch Award for marketplace ethics from the Cincinnati Better Business Bureau. Being in the marketing industry, there are many awards that seem to be pay and apply and win an award. The BBB Torch Award is not one of those. Very few companies win this award and even fewer on the first year of nomination. We had to provide countless examples, hours of interviews and documentation to back up our values and ethics. But the award is just a recognition of what we do and how we perform our work every day for our clients and team. The real reward is the relationships and trust we have built with our clients that continue to work with us year after year and refer us to their colleagues (in other markets of course, as they don’t want to have us help their competitors).
Many times, after going through a branding session with clients, where we dig into the core values and purpose of the lawyers and the law firm, client’s tell us that is the most time they have spent thinking about the “why” of their law firm and thank us for forcing uncomfortable discussions. We have seen it lead to better success for many of our clients, and I am happy that Ms. Goshtasbi presented a great case for more law firm’s to walk-the-walk when it comes to your firm’s values.