Law Firm Differentiation – Going Beyond “Full Service” & “Client Focused”

By Clayton Dodd, Law Office of Peter N. Brewer

On October 12, the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association hosted a panel discussion about law firm differentiation. The panelists included two senior law firm marketers — Brian Colucci, Chief Marketing Officer at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton and Catherine Zinn, Chief Client Officer at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe — as well as Deanna Kwong, a senior litigation attorney in the Intellectual Property division of Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Moderated by Paige Hutson, partner at TeamWise Leadership Advisors, the group imparted its expertise on several subjects relating to how law firms can distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace. One key topic was diversity. Companies place a high value on diverse teams working on a matter. Kwong and Hewlett Packard Enterprise evaluate each case and how diversity can make an impact on the case. However, companies don’t just look for statistics — they look at meaningful engagement of people from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, firms must demonstrate a genuine commitment to diversity, such as involvement with organizations like the California Minority Council Program. Zinn identified that the “tone at the top” of law firms is critical for promoting diversity. For example, Orrick has a large percentage of minority leadership. Firms can’t just say that they support diversity — they must show it in everything that they do.

Beyond diversity, law firms can also stand out by improving client engagement. Good judgment, loyalty, and meaningful interactions are critical when deciding between law firms, according to Kwong. Clients don’t want to only hear from the relationship manager. Clients also don’t want the only interaction that month to be a bill. Colucci identifies that engagement starts with feedback: firms should constantly be pursuing feedback from their clients. If a firm isn’t trying to get feedback, then the only feedback that will come is bad feedback, and it will come when the relationship has already soured. Being proactive is key — Colucci and his team at Kilpatrick Townsend treat each client as a market of one, meaning each client receives individual attention and care. (This helps to not only identify client-specific issues, but also to extrapolate macrotrends for crafting strategic firm-wide solutions.)

Additionally, innovation plays a huge role in differentiation. Colucci identified that the traditional models of law firm relationships are breaking down. Law firms should find creative ways to compete, which means coming up with innovative ways to deliver services. One example is outsourcing certain types of work, like e-discovery. This may not result in a high profit margin, but it does mean a lot to clients who don’t want to pay partner-level rates for junior associate-level work. Similarly, innovation begins with understanding the client’s business — knowing what responsibilities the in-house counsel have, and adding value by making the in-house counsel look good to their senior leadership. “Kitchen sink proposals,” or proposals that throw everything at the client to see what sticks, are not effective, and will be consistently passed over for more creative, innovative proposals. Zinn and Orrick are focused on innovation, talent, and culture, and they use advisory boards of clients, consultants, and managing partners to improve their service. Legal marketers play a huge role in helping firms innovate and re-invent new methods of engagement, and must respond proactively to changes in the marketplace.

The marketplace for legal services is changing — more law firms are competing for less work, as companies seek to reduce their legal spend, bring work in-house, and utilize alternative legal service providers. To stand out in this marketplace, law firms must improve their client engagement, find innovative client-centered solutions, and establish a clear, compelling, and unwavering commitment to diversity.


About the author
Clayton Dodds is the director of marketing at the Law Offices of Peter N. Brewer, a Silicon Valley boutique real estate law firm, and the communications chair for the Legal Marketing Association – West Region. He writes & speaks on topics of online marketing, law firm operations, analytics, and technology, and can be reached at