If your law firm is one of many that will host its annual Partner retreat this spring it’s likely your agenda includes a set of challenges that are bedeviling the entire legal industry—from consolidation and commoditization to differentiation and the complexities of the modern digital marketplace.

These are complicated issues, and not every firm can, or should, address them in the same way. Which begs the question: how do you avoid falling back on generic advice and make the right marketing decisions for your firm in an ever-changing marketplace? Is there objective evidence you can bring to bear?

Download The Professional Services Guide to Research

Before I address these questions, I want to tell you the story of a remarkable law firm that you may not have heard of—one which is positioning itself for long-term success, whatever the market brings.

Nishith Desai Associates is a business-facing law firm based in Mumbai, India. Founded in 1989, the firm has grown steadily over the years and now has offices in eight cities around the world, from Silicon Valley to Singapore. But that’s not what makes this firm special. What is so remarkable is what they are doing today to future-proof their business.

They recognized that the future brings uncertainty, so they resolved to tackle the issue head-on. Nishith Desai Associates embraced the buzziest of buzzwords—“innovation”—but they committed themselves to do it right. To this end, here are just some of the amazing things they do:

  • Conduct ongoing research into emerging areas of the law. They have published their findings in hundreds of articles and research papers, which they make freely available on their website. This research into bleeding-edge topics such as blockchain technology and self-driving vehicles positions the firm as thought leaders at the frontiers of social and technological change.
  • Research their marketplace. Nishith Desai Associates knows that their clients don’t stand still, so they interview them on a regular basis to monitor their evolving needs.
  • Focus on education. They require every one of their attorneys to dedicate an hour every day to professional education. The goal is to build a highly skilled, well-informed, forward-thinking culture. In an industry driven by the billable hours, this is an incredible investment.
  • Enhance the visibility of their attorneys. Many of their attorneys have acquired specialized expertise, so the firm is in the process of helping these individuals become more prominent in their field. This in turn, will take advantage of the halo effect and make the firm better known and more reputable.
  • Represent many of the world’s most innovative companies. These associations strengthen the firm’s reputation as innovators, themselves.
  • Build an institute devoted to innovation and the law. Early in 2018, Nishith Desai Associates will open the Blue Sky Innovation Centre, a multi-million dollar facility dedicated to exploring the legal issues of tomorrow.

The initial results are impressive. The firm’s annual revenue growth is several times the industry average, and The Financial Times has named them Asia-Pacific’s Most Innovative Law Firm, as well as India’s Most Innovative Law Firm four years in a row.

Most important, however, they are doing everything they can to sharpen their understanding of the changing marketplace so they can adjust course accordingly. The key take away from this story is not that your firm should try to emulate Nishith Desai Associates in every way but to recognize that as your clients change, your firm has to be prepared to change with them.

Which brings us back to the central point of this post. There is only one way to bring clarity to the marketplace and set your firm up for ongoing success: ask your clients and prospects directly. And the best way to do that is to conduct formal research on your market.

My colleague Liz Harr has written a terrific article explaining the basics of marketing research, so I don’t need to retread that territory here. Instead, I hope to convince you that going to the trouble and expense of conducting research is not only worth it, but absolutely essential if you want to thrive in the turbulent times ahead.

No doubt, research is a common—even vital—feature of your law practice. You rely on databases, media archives, witness interviews, expert opinions and countless other sources of primary and secondary research to shape and win your cases.

Law firm marketing research should be no less influential in shaping the future of your firm. Imagine if you went to trial without an understanding of the case’s larger context. What if you had no idea what arguments your opponents might present? You would be at a significant (probably colossal) disadvantage.

Now imagine marketing your firm without understanding how today’s prospective clients seek out counsel, what characteristics they look for in a law firm, what marketing message instill them with confidence or how they choose one firm over another. These factors change over time. And firms that monitor these changes always have the advantage.

You don’t have to become another Nishith Desai Associates to prepare your firm for the future. You just need to be a few degrees more aware of what’s changing in the marketplace than your competitors. And research is the key. Start discovering what clients want and need today, so you can be ready to deliver those qualities in the year to come.

Download The Professional Services Guide to Research

And don’t try to conduct the interviews yourself. Hire a reputable third-party firm that is expert at coaxing insightful answers out of busy or unenthusiastic interviewees. People are also more inclined to provide honest feedback if the person asking the questions has no emotional stake in the answers.

To close, I’d like to instill a sense of urgency in you. If you are indeed planning a spring retreat (or even one later in the year), you need to start equipping yourself with the insights to make informed decision now. Research takes time—typically six to eight weeks—and you would be wise to hit the ground running in the winter months so you have time to turn your findings into solid strategic recommendations for your larger team.

Additional Resources:

How Hinge Can Help:

Don’t know where to start? Hinge can help your firm conduct the research you need to see your marketplace clearly. And when you are ready to take your firm’s marketing to the next level, our flagship Visible Firm® program is designed to drive unprecedented visibility and growth.