Whether branding a law firm or practice, building a new website, or developing a marketing plan, law firms and lawyers cannot be properly positioned without an understanding of the competitive landscape.

In our work, my Jaffe colleagues and I rely on the competitive intelligence gathered through a market analysis. This type of competitor analysis is a snapshot in time, revealing the current position, public profile, marketing tactics and client profiles of competitors. With this evaluation in hand, you can establish what makes you unique and, therefore, understand what messages you want to use in your marketing efforts – that is, what attributes you should highlight to attract your target clients.

Given the shifts that occur in the economy, the continued convergence programs being undertaken by clients and the ongoing commoditizing of certain types of legal work, such a snapshot is likely to look quite different in the not-too-distance future. This is why lawyers and law firm marketing departments must always be engaged in monitoring competitors.

While you probably do not have the time, resources or perhaps the expertise needed to conduct in-depth analyses on a regular basis, there are a few things you can do to keep your eye on the competition.

Set Up Google Alerts

You may already have alerts in place to monitor news about your clients and their industries. Why not do the same for your competitors? Just type your competitors’ names into a search query and select what you would like to be notified about, including news, blogs, videos and discussions. You can have notifications sent to you as frequently as you’d like – whether once a week, daily or in real time.  

Sign Up to Receive Their Newsletters

If a competitor lawyer or firm produces a newsletter, you may be able to subscribe online through their website. Receiving newsletters from competitors lets you see how they are presenting themselves to clients. It also gives you insight into what practice areas, industries and issues the firm is marketing to and about.

Explore Their Websites

Spending time on reviewing your competitors’ websites is a great way to gather competitive intelligence. Law firm websites frequently highlight case successes and list clients or industry niches. Websites also can keep you abreast of some of your competitors’ marketing tactics, as websites typically house newsletters, information on speaking engagements and sponsorships, and news of rankings and achievements.

You also should occasionally look at the “careers” sections to learn a little about a firm’s areas of growth, based on the positions for which they are recruiting.

Use the Power of Social Networks

Monitoring the social media activity of competitors gives you insight into how they position themselves, the information they are sharing, and how clients and prospective clients interact with their brands. Connect with individual lawyer competitors on LinkedIn and follow the firm’s company page. You can also follow individual attorneys and their firms on Twitter.

Visit Their Sponsorship Tables

When you attend an event sponsored by one of your competitors, stop by their table or booth to see what types of promotional and educational materials they are distributing, the practice areas being represented, and which attorneys are there to network.

Go to the Source

There is no better gauge of how a competitor is perceived in the market than the opinions of the in-house lawyers at the firm’s targeted clients. These targeted clients probably are the same clients you are targeting or even your existing clients. If the opportunity arises, ask a couple of clients what types of information they value receiving from lawyers and which firms they feel deliver the information well. If your firm solicits regular client feedback, make sure an item of this type is on the questionnaire.

The goal of monitoring your competitors is to make sure all the marketing elements that form your brand experience are positioning you properly, are better than those of your competitors and can be adjusted before you have lost market share. Without some form of regular analysis, you cannot be certain that you are spending your marketing time and budget effectively. The least successful lawyers ignore their competitors. Those with average success copy their competitors and the most successful lead their competitors.

To learn more about competitive analysis, contact Terry M. Isner at tisner@jaffepr.com.