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THE MAGAZINE      May/June 2002
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Like Lawyers for Chocolate

Innovation is the cornerstone of our economy. Finding new ways to do things, unique things to sell and better ways to sell them—that’s what keeps the free market humming along. How does this apply to the legal profession?

Well, just as any kid pondering the candy counter uses some criteria to select a Tootsie Roll over a Butterfingers bar, prospective clients look for the differences between your firm and the one down the street. If all candy had identical packaging, identical contents and an identical taste, choosing one would be (in addition to boring) a random act at best.

And random, at best, is the way most law firms are selected. Because they do come packaged in identical wrappers, have identical contents and taste pretty much the same, a law firm client has to rely on some pretty minute and obscure characteristics to make a hiring choice.

I already hear you developing your argument. "Not true! Our lawyers went to better schools. We office in an historic low-rise building, not a skyscraper. We use purple for our firm brochure, for goodness sake!" Alas, as it turns out, those are all features that mean little, if anything, to your client.

In the same way that kids choose their candy based on chewy versus crunchy, chocolate versus licorice, nutty versus creamy, and whatever else serves to distinguish one treat from another, your client wants you to think about his or her tastes instead of your own craving to conform.

So what do clients want? Maybe fast and easy answers. Maybe a stable long-haul relationship. Perhaps access to the full range of services instead of one narrowly focused guru. Or a handcrafted document versus ready- made forms they can fill in on their own. An electronic relationship versus continuous on-site access to "their" lawyer. Flat fees. Electronic billing. A hand to hold. Who knows for a given individual or organization?

"Okay!" you say. "We’re working on that. We know we have to be different things for different clients." Well, that’s not the point. The point is, if a candy bar tried to be all things to all people, it would be unpalatable and end up being nothing to anyone.

Focus in. Bust out of that old box of chocolates. Become a firm that is uniquely … something. Be extraordinary to a group of clients who want exactly what you’ve got. Patterning your practice after every other firm won’t get you to the next step. Think differently. Create something unique.

To start with, have an open-minded read through this issue’s contents. We’ve given you a candy store full of ideas, inspirations and resources for thinking creatively about your business. Go ahead, take a bite.

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton,  lpm-editor@abanet.org