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Brand attraction is more important than ever in the legal market amid underlying competitive market pressures.

The word ‘attractivity’ might puzzle you. It’s best thought of as organisational charisma—the quality or degree of a law firm’s attractive power or influence. How compelling is its proposition to clients and the market?

This extends to all the elements that attract partners and clients to one firm rather than another. Where a firm experiences problems with these elements, there will probably be similar underlying causes because the different strands contributing to a firm’s brand attraction connect: it’s a patchwork interwoven by common threads.

The reason brand attraction is more important than ever in the legal market is underlying competitive pressures, whether bringing in new business or retaining talent. Your attractivity needs to be as good is it can be for your firm to out-perform the opposition. Some firms are very successful at maintaining a high level of brand attraction over the long-term, setting a bar that rises as the market shifts with growing client and employee expectations. 

Any weaknesses in brand have rapid repercussions in recruitment campaigns, attrition, client loyalty and in the legal media, which impact on a firm’s performance, service, and revenues. Measuring the attractivity of a brand is the right place to start, but this is not an exact science.  Some contributing elements are subjective. 

There are also intangibles that are hard to pin down, such as the strength of a firm’s culture. But there are ways to measure law firms against benchmarks and track trends in results over time that give some point of reference—for instance, with other professional service businesses—about where there are challenges. 

It’s crucial, though, to invest time in interpreting the data and organising a response. If you conduct surveys of your people or clients to help gauge your attractivity, and then don’t discuss the feedback or act on it, it’s hugely counter-productive.

How you improve attractivity will depend on individual firms. But we know post-pandemic that associates and business services staff have a stronger focus on working conditions, personal well-being and professional development. Of continuing importance is the internal messaging about the firm, its stated priorities, and what is inferred about its culture and values from those communications.  Getting the tone—as well as the substance—right makes a big impact on employees and is a huge influence in a firm’s attractivity.

For clients of a law firm, its attractivity is tied to its responsiveness on service quality and value-adds. The key issues are differentiation in product, service delivery and overall package of benefits, together with how the relationship is managed. What mechanisms and organisation need to be in place to improve the client experience and so enhance the client perception of your firm?

Armed with this, and your data, you’d expect to have everything you need to improve attractivity. But do you really understand what the data is telling you? In a recent survey, 92% of CEOs said they believed they were empathetic with their people, but only 50% of their employees agreed.

Are you really listening? Or are you applying a filter to what people are saying? Go back to your analysis. Test it. Make sure the identified changes address the real issues and are clear and specific. Define the resources required and give a timeline for change. And set out how you will measure whether that change has been successful.

There may be value in organising the changes you plan as a structured programme to enhance employee and client engagement. These elements link quite naturally: it might be the overriding theme is focusing on high performance in the firm, or changing its culture, or introducing business improvements. As a programme, it has added momentum, focus and visibility with leadership, resources and regular reporting to encourage people to get behind it.  It can become the focal point for continuous improvement.

Measuring whether change has happened as you planned is key—for reporting purposes, feedback and to direct future change efforts. Your before-and-after data points will show whether your people are more engaged, you are winning the war for talent and what your partners and people feel about your firm. And the same with client reactions and perception.

The shift will be measurable in less tangible ways too. The firm’s culture will feel bolder, more dynamic and purposeful: the firm will feel more in control. The critical difference, evident in self-confident firms, is a sense of belonging and pride among partners and people. This starts with leaders putting the sustainability of the business ahead of its short-term performance and respecting the contribution made by everyone. 

This quickly generates shared values and from that the strength the firm needs to compete in the market with motivated and passionate lawyers and staff. This rapidly becomes evident also to clients; and so a virtuous circle begins.

Patrick Bignon formerly oversaw the worldwide organisation of EY Law, was the worldwide managing partner of Andersen Legal (and a member of the Board of Andersen Worldwide) and the managing partner of the law firm Archibald Andersen in France. Richard King was chief legal operations officer at Herbert Smith Freehills.

Both are now partners in legal services management consultancy Bignon De Keyser.