Your Firm Has a Story That Your Clients Don’t Know – And They Should
In the legal profession, regardless of geography or specialty, firms frequently tout credentials that don’t mean much to prospective clients, while ignoring the most important asset they own: their story.
Paul Furiga, president at WordWrite, explores the essence of what this story is and how it can be used to empower a firm and its image.
There may be a practitioner somewhere who entered law to accumulate case citations and professional certifications. But most lawyers I have worked with over three decades view their career as an opportunity to make a difference for clients. Some of the most engaging conversations I have had with master practitioners trace the tales that led them from taking on dire legal challenges to delivering results for clients.
So why do so many lawyers (and law firms) focus their marketing to prospective clients on obscure case citations and professional certifications?
The law firm challenge
Face it: the people who actually sign the cheques to engage law firms are rarely as excited by case wins or certifications as the firms they hire. In fact, most organisations hiring outside counsel consider requisite experiences and certifications to be table stakes. In other words, if the firm did not have the right credentials, it would not be considered for the work.
In my years working with law firms to propel their growth, a few themes emerge repeatedly in my conversations with firm leaders:
- “As a firm, we do not know how to describe what we do.”
- “Our prospects say they cannot tell us apart from our competitors.”
- “We do not know how to make the firm attractive to new hires.”
- “Everybody in the firm seems to have a different idea of what we do.”
- “My practice is the most important in the firm, regardless of how large it may be.”
What is the result of failing to address these issues? Predictably, growing a firm becomes more about happenstance than effective positioning. This is frequently when firms engage us — because they are experiencing inconsistent, unpredictable growth. They are often, quite simply, stuck.
The people who actually sign the cheques to engage law firms are rarely as excited by case wins or certifications as the firms they hire.
Your most valuable growth asset
We have learned in working with law firms that there is no reason to be stuck. There is no reason to fall back on table stakes when seeking to grow the firm. That is because every firm owns an asset that no competitor can claim, regardless of whether they boast similar certifications and experiences.
That asset is the firm’s unique story. We have come to call it your ‘Capital S Story’ because it rises above all the other stories a firm or practitioner may share. Your Capital S Story stands above because it answers these critical questions: why someone should hire you, work for you or partner with you.
The answers to these questions define the very character and nature of the firm. Few lawyers I have met would consider their firm a carbon copy of a competing firm with similar credentials. Yet instead of focusing on their firm’s most unique asset, the only one that no competitor can claim, they fall into the trap of comparing experiences and certifications.
Why use your Capital S Story?
Once, it was all too easy for logically minded professionals, including lawyers, to dismiss storytelling as some sort of marketing gimmick that had no place in growing a firm.
However, functional MRIs and similar tools have demonstrated convincingly in the last two decades that the human brain is hardwired for story. In my book, ‘Finding Your Capital S Story’, I relate an experiment by Dr Uri Hasson at Princeton University, who captured the brain activity of a storyteller and then proved that when more than 30 listeners heard the story, their brain activity mirrored that of the storyteller. This is a phenomenon known as neural coupling and it is essential to engaging any audience, including law firm prospects. It is essential to differentiating your firm from competitors.
Your Capital S Story stands above because it answers these critical questions: why someone should hire you, work for you or partner with you.
Biology is not the only scientific proof of storytelling; the famed psychotherapist Carl Jung learned the power of stories while practicing in Switzerland during World War I. During that war, Switzerland was a neutral country. As a diaspora of refugees entered Switzerland, Jung worked with a great variety of patients. Regardless of language, economic attainment or personal experiences, he found his patients told the same stories over and over again, which led him to the concept of what he termed “the collective unconscious.”
In a similar fashion, the mythologist Joseph Campbell, by studying the stories told around the world in various cultures, came to the conclusion that there are a set of archetypal stories that we humans tell ourselves over and over again. Campbell is best known for developing what he called the Hero’s Journey, a story archetype that is at the heart of many great films and books.
There are hundreds of variations of archetypal stories. These lie at the heart of success for organisations that sell complex services, which surely describes law firms. For instance, if you tell a prospect that your firm is a David and Goliath story, your prospect does not need to be a Biblical scholar to understand that you are an underdog firm whose place in the legal marketplace is to take on established firms.
Yet the David and Goliath example is not quite enough. This is where the firm’s experiences actually do matter — the firm’s specifics must be married with a memorable and widely understood archetype to describe your firm’s unique, compelling and memorable Capital S Story.
Functional MRIs and similar tools have demonstrated convincingly in the last two decades that the human brain is hardwired for story.
A real-life example
Recently, our team worked with a mid-sized law firm in a major US city. At 75 lawyers, the firm was one of ten similar firms competing for the same work in its region, and its 75 lawyers were telling 75 different stories to gain clients. The firm wanted those stories to fit within an overall narrative that uniquely described the firm.
We collaborated with firm leadership in our trademarked StoryCrafting® process to uncover and develop the firm’s unique archetype and story. We learned that the firm targeted middle-market US companies seeking outside counsel. In interviews, partners told us the firm wanted to be the first call from company leadership when encountering a legal problem the company had never seen before.
In aligning the experiences, leadership and capabilities that the firm wanted to grow with archetypes that would resonate with clients and prospects, we settled on the firm’s archetype as legal pathfinder. In other words, when facing a legal problem they had never encountered before, a prospective client would want to engage the firm because its lawyers knew the way and would ensure that the company did not step on any legal landmines.
When we presented the archetypal story to the firm leadership, one of the most successful partners got the idea immediately: In his client conversations he said, he often talked about himself as a cartographer, a legal expert who could help draw the map of success for his clients. When we work with clients such as this firm, the key messages from the archetypal story are flowed into broad firm marketing and become standardised for lawyers doing their own marketing as well.
Opportunities for you
Uncovering, developing and sharing your firm’s Capital S Story is a fruitful exercise that involves much more than this article can provide. I do hope that this article has intrigued you to explore these fundamental questions about your firm:
- Why should someone hire you, work for you or partner with you?
- Do you know what your firm’s Capital S Story is?
- Is your Story driving your firm’s marketing and practice development?
If you would like to explore the answers to these questions in depth, our firm website contains several downloadable tools you may find useful. Here’s to great success sharing your firm’s most important story: Its own!
Paul Furiga, President and Chief Storyteller
611 William Penn Pl #501, Pittsburgh, PA 15219, United States
Tel: +1 412 246 0340
Paul Furiga is president and chief storyteller at WordWrite. A former journalist, he wrote and edited over 20,000 stories over a two-decade career before applying his experience to PR. His focus is on identifying and sharing firms’ stories, and he has written a book on the topic: ‘Finding Your Capital S Story, Why your Story Drives your Brand’.
WordWrite is an award-winning storytelling PR agency in Pittsburgh. WordWrite helps providers of complex services uncover, develop and share their Capital S Story, the most important marketing tool they own, to reveal why someone would do business with them, partner with them or work for them.