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Showcasing unique value in a crowded field

Knowing the value your service brings to clients and how clients perceive that value is of the utmost importance for boutique firms, according to this managing director.

user iconLauren Croft 30 September 2021 SME Law
Showcasing unique value in a crowded field
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Nigel Evans is the managing director of Aptum Legal and spoke recently on The Boutique Lawyer Show about finding and understanding your firm’s value proposition, as well as how to stand out in a saturated market.

Mr Evans said that effectively communicating their values to the market whilst simultaneously standing out from the crowd was one of the key challenges for boutique firms moving forward.

“It’s definitely one of the hardest challenges for boutiques. I think you’re almost forced into having to be creative because you need to attract an audience and you need to attract eyeballs, in a way. And you have to give them something of value to do that,” he said.

 
 

“You definitely need to say something creative and say something different. But you also can’t fall into the trap of just forcing yourself at the end of a spectrum where you’re just saying things that are different for different’s sake. So, it’s about trying to create a message that will resonate.

“You want to position yourself in a way that is attractive to an established market, but at the same time, you want to differentiate yourself from those offerings. That’s a hard tightrope to get. It does require a little bit of creativity and messaging. It also requires a ridiculous amount of persistence.”

For Aptum Legal, the staff’s collective legal experience meant that they had a “clear understanding” of the firm’s value offering from its inception.

“For us, it was about developing a value proposition that overcame some real problems and some common issues and complaints that litigants were experiencing and that I was witnessing in my practise as a barrister that litigants were experiencing,” Mr Evans continued.

“However, that develops over time. And indeed, it’s hard for lawyers to try and think about how we express things in terms of the value we’re delivering for clients rather than simply the processes and steps we’re taking them through.”

In terms of bringing value to clients, Mr Evans added that boutique firms should be “developing a proposition about value in circumstances where what value means is particular to clients.”

“We are constantly in this process of trying to understand and determine, ‘What do clients really need from us? What do they see as value? What are they looking for?’ And then to tailor what we do to meet that value,” he said.

“In terms of the value that we add, we talk about arming clients with the information, the intelligence, and the capability for them to properly realise their legal interests and to resolve their commercial disputes. So, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The firm’s overarching purpose is to arm their clients with the ability to make informed decisions about how to resolve a commercial dispute and what steps they need to take to achieve the best possible outcome – which is also how they add value, Mr Evans said. 

“Where we add value is making sure that a client is well-informed and is capable, through our involvement, in being able to achieve those ends. How we go about it is we build a model that’s really based on four pillars. Those four pillars are specific expertise, sticking in your lane.

“We only do commercial litigation where we can absolutely add value to the client. And really, that’s around proportionality in particular. The second thing is we make sure that our pricing is aligned in a way that our interests are commensurate with the clients’ interests. We’ve got aligned interest, and that’s where we’ve gone into value-based pricing and fixed-fee pricing, as well as a range of other models around pricing,” he said.

“The third element is we focus heavily on risk assessment. And for us, that is about creating what we call our legal intelligence framework. And really, that’s about understanding, what is essential for a client? What is really important to be able to determine the right outcome in the dispute? And the fourth thing is making sure we have a project management framework that executes on what’s essential.”

However, in a saturated legal market, a number of challenges exist for boutique firms around meaningfully defining and articulating their value.

“The real common complaints in litigation often come down to three things: it’s communication, the extent to which the litigation lawyer is communicating consistently with the client. It’s the ability to make proper assessments about what’s essential, and that’s really about focusing on outcomes. And the third is making sure that fees are proportionate and some level of certainty in those,” Mr Evans added.

“Now, when you design a value proposition around those three things, the message is, well, shouldn’t you be doing those things anyway? So, one real challenge for boutiques is how to define the value proposition in a way that actually resonates as being something that is genuinely different.”

Aptum Legal does a number of things to understand their own value proposition, including having a process of understanding the client experience as well as a “space in a practice to be able to evaluate that feedback in a way that is non-threatening,” according to Mr Evans.

He added that this requires firms to create an understanding, healthy working environment and culture with correct processes – Aptum Legal has a head of innovation, David Adason, and recently assigned an experienced lawyer, Mia Basic, to be in charge of client relationships and experiences.

“The two of those working together create a process of feedback. So, I think the answer is you have to have a system to deal with it. You have to be prepared to deal with it. Then when the opportunities arise, you have to give them a go.

“And indeed, one of our defining experiences, being over the last three-and-a-half years, is that we do give things a go. We take risks, we try processes, we try new tools. We try to look at different pipelines of work, different types of work that we might experiment with,” Mr Evans said.

“Sometimes those things work, sometimes they don’t, but it’s about having that process and that willingness to keep trying, I think, which is essential, I think, particularly for boutiques.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Nigel Evans, click below: