October 23, 2012


Law Practice Magazine

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 Table of Contents | Features | Frontlines | Technology | Business

January/February 2009 Issue | Volume 35 Number 1 | Page 48



The basic question underlying every hiring decision is, why you? Competitive advantages provide a powerful way to definitively answer that question—and stand out from the competition.

What are competitive advantages? They are not subjective, adjective-laden claims about yourself. They are factual themes about your experience and accomplishments that you can use to tailor your approach to a particular opportunity.

For example, if you are pitching a major public educational institution, your strongest pitch might be this:

  • 70 percent of your eight years of practice devoted to the representation and defense of educational institutions at the primary, secondary and university levels
  • Entire eight-year legal career spent with two of the leading law firms representing educational institutions
  • Experience working with five of the seven largest school systems in the state, including successful defense of a class-action lawsuit
  • Three years as a teacher and administrator in a public school system

A more traditional, noncompetitive advantage approach might argue you have the following:

  • Excellent analytical, organizational and advocacy skills
  • A J.D. from a major law school and law review experience
  • Professional experience in top firms

Compare the impact of the approach that points to general qualities and credentials with the set of factual competitive advantages directly relevant to a prospective client’s needs—from the major focus on legal work for educational institutions to professional experience working within school systems. The greater impact of the latter can spell the difference between success and failure in business development situations. Here are tips for using your competitive advantages.

Demonstrate, don’t declare, value. This is the difference between show and tell. Don’t lay claim to subjective qualities like “outstanding leadership skills,” which have no impact without facts to back them up. Instead, point to something objective and relevant, such as how much of your practice has been devoted to the industry, your record of success in representing the industry, or the number of major industry players you have represented, even as the junior member in a client team. Depth, breadth or (high) level of experience are common sources of competitive advantage.

It’s all about them, not you. When selling, keep your eye on the ball by focusing on how you are best qualified to meet their needs, instead of how great you or your firm are. The fundamental consideration in a client’s buying decision is whether you can do the best job to meet a need. Focusing on their needs makes the strongest case.

Build relationships and business at the same time. Women, and often men, are reluctant to use self-promotion at the potential expense of relationships. Competitive advantages provide a way to both promote yourself and simultaneously build the relationship by constructing your strongest case for how you are better positioned to meet their needs than anyone else.

Use competitive advantages for performance reviews, compensation negotiations and other career-building activities. Once you have developed the skill, you can use it to build business, your career and your personal brand.

About the Author

Rachelle J. Canter is President of RJC Associates in San Francisco, which provides leadership, career, team development, selection and outplacement services to law firms and corporations. She is the author of Make the Right Career Move (Wiley).