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In this article María Jesús González-Espejo, our law firm consultant in Spain, analyses one of the most frequent problems which affect law firms today: the lack of differentiation. In such a demanding market, this lack of differentiation poses a real threat to its survival. A law firm should be dedicating its resources (time, money, and people) to think about its DNA, understanding the market, its capacities and wishes and establishing strategies to differentiate themselves from the rest. LegalTech could help them achieving this. Let us look into how.
The dictionary defines zombie as the person presumed dead and which has been revived through witchcraft with the goal of controlling its will.
In the field of data science, this term is used to denominate data used by AI based applications that do not meet the minimum standards or that should not have been taken into account.
In the financial field, a zombie business is that which cannot cover its financial costs and is forced to refinance constantly. Here, the witchcraft is done by financial entities or other people and organisations which provide these kinds of businesses with the money they need to survive when, they should be extinct. During the last global financial crisis, we saw the effects caused by this, as the financial and real state sectors were full of zombies which ended up provoking a world economic collapse.
Under the fake news or misinformation umbrella, we talk about zombie content to refer to that which is deleted once published. The witchcraft in this case refers to the possibility of generating more exposure compared to the majority of the news in conventional media, even if it only exists in the browsers as archived information since it is not published anymore.
Nonetheless, the meaning that ultimately serves the goal of this article is applied in strategic and marketing approaches, which classifies as zombie brands those businesses which are uncapable of differentiating themselves from their competitors. This is the precise situation through which a growing number of law firms are going through right now. Behind this are several reasons, but the main ones are the drastic and rapid changes forced by the present context to which only a few are capable of adapting to.
Adapting requires a lot of energy, imagination, and the willingness to dedicate the necessary resources and not all firms have them. In this case, the witchcraft lies within those firms which attempt to survive by quick fixes, by taking advantage of the changes in the economic cycle and the opportunities arising because of it or by sacrificing the personal life of its leaders which are forced to dedicate all their free time to work to sustain their battered organisation.
Strategies to differentiate yourself within your market
A note on the title above is to be aware that under this heading we are looking into differentiation within the market and not from competitors. This difference is very relevant, let us delve into it. When trying to differentiate a business we can adopt two different methods:
What is the difference between them? While the red ocean contemplates the market as an ocean with scarce amounts of fish (metaphor for “clients”) for everyone, the second one sees the ocean possessing enough food for everyone. In the blue ocean strategy, the key lies in finding the precious fish stocks (opportunities or market niches) that others have not seen as of yet. Consequently, while the red ocean strategy generates stress, tension, unhappiness, and frustration if we do not achieve our goals the blue ocean strategy promotes creativity, imagination, happiness and well-being. If you want to learn more about this beautiful theory, developed by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, both INSEAD professors, I highly recommend their work titled Blue ocean. Red ocean published in 2005.
I confess that applying this vision to the market, is not an easy task. In my case, I have been doing it for over 9 years and still today find it difficult to not care so much about what others do. I also confess that it works, that the ocean is indeed blue and that sometimes, we have to take a risk too (at least a small one) and allow everyone’s creativity to flourish and guide our businesses.
Now let us turn to strategy. You might be acquainted with how strategic theorists classify strategy into three different groups: Differentiation, specialisation or cost leadership. Let us look at examples from each strategy specifically applied to the legal profession:
Furthermore, LegalTech is nowadays one of the main allies of law firms for the development of any of these strategies. When talking about differentiation, technology is obviously very helpful. However, today’s law firms still have a low level of implementation of LegalTech. This is translated into the existence of a great margin to achieve this differentiation by using tools which make our client’s life much easier, such as extranet, collaborative tools, automation of contracts and processes with a content supplied and updated by the firm, information platforms as well as those related to virtual training.
Differentiate your business or let it die, that is the challenge and the lesson learnt from today. And if reading this article has made you realise that your firm could be classified as a zombie, you should with no delay start thinking on how to dedicate resources to solve this problem. And in the way of doing this, do not forget that LegalTech could be the best ally to make you different in a big blue ocean