Denver Bar Association
November 2008
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21 Ways to Overcome Competitive Weaknesses and Increase Your Credibility

by Trey Ryder

All lawyers have competitive strengths and weaknesses. If you’re a new attorney, your prospects may perceive your weaknesses to be your youth, lack of experience, minimum qualifications, lack of special training, less-than-elegant office, and so forth.

If you’re a veteran attorney, your weaknesses may include your narrow focus, high fee threshold, busy schedule, lack of availability, and so on.

Your competitive advantages and disadvantages (a.k.a., strengths and weaknesses) are valid only when seen through your prospect’s eyes. What your prospect perceives, your prospect believes. To your prospect, his perceptions are fact.

To use a legal term, your prospect’s perceptions are rebuttable presumptions because your prospect presumes certain facts are true, based on the information he has. Because you can provide your prospect with as much information as you wish, you have the opportunity to change how your prospect perceives you. You can overcome competitive weaknesses by providing specific facts.

When a prospect looks at your weaknesses, he weighs them against your strengths and then decides whether to hire you. If your weaknesses outweigh your strengths, your prospect won’t hire you because he doesn’t believe you can solve his problem.

Here are steps you can take — and information you can provide — to increase your credibility and overcome your competitive weaknesses.

1. Treat every prospect as if he is the most important person in the world. When you give your prospect your undivided attention, you build a stronger relationship because your prospect knows you sincerely want to help him.

2. Ask your prospect what problem he wants to solve or what goal he wants to achieve. The sooner you focus on your prospect’s needs, the sooner he trusts you — and the sooner he concludes the two of you are working toward a common goal.

3. Listen carefully so you can determine which points are most important to your prospect. One of the biggest complaints about lawyers is that they offer boilerplate solutions before they have listened to their prospect’s problem. Even if their stories are nearly the same, prospects want to tell you their story so you appreciate the weight they carry on their shoulders.

4. Offer information about your prospect’s problem and the solution you recommend. The more you educate your prospect, the more your prospect believes that you understand his problem and have the skills and qualifications to solve it.

5. Explain how your prospect will benefit from your solution. First, your prospect needs to understand the solution you recommend. Second, your prospect needs to know how he will benefit from that solution.

For example, let’s say your prospect has questions about a contract. You offer to review the document. How does your prospect benefit? After you review the document, your prospect (now your client) will (1) know how the document protects his interests, and (2) know any weaknesses that should be addressed. Further, after you correct those weaknesses, your client will be less likely to face legal challenges than if he had relied only on his own judgment.

6. Give your prospect a copy of your biography because it proves that you have the education, background and qualifications to solve your prospect’s problem or help him achieve his goal. Your prospect wants to trust you, but most prospects don’t have much, if any, information about your education and qualifications. When you provide biographical information, your credibility increases immediately.

7. Add power to your biography with a good marketing photograph. In the photo, you should be looking directly into the camera and have a warm, engaging smile. An attractive photo — closely cropped for strong eye contact — serves as proof that you are kind, pleasant and friendly.

8. Tell your prospect how you have helped other clients in similar situations. Every time you explain a case history, your prospect sees that his is not the first case of this type that you have handled. The more case histories you describe that are similar to your prospect’s, the more your credibility increases in his eyes.

9. Offer information and advice in plain English. Your prospect finds it hard to trust a lawyer who uses words he doesn’t understand. When you talk with your prospect, speak in simple terms. The more your prospect understands, the higher your level of credibility — and the more your prospect concludes that you know how to solve his problem.

10. Package your solution so it is attractive to your prospect. When you offer your prospect a solution he likes, you increase your credibility and make it easy for your prospect to accept your offer.

11. Allow your prospect to make his own decision without pressure from you. All of us have learned to distrust the salesperson who tries to pressure us into making a decision. To increase your credibility, tell your prospect that you will provide information and recommend the solution you believe is in his best interests. At the same time, make sure your prospect knows that you will never try to pressure him into making a decision.

12. Make sure your prospect knows that you are happy to answer his questions now and in the future. The way to build trust and respect is to keep the lines of communication open. If your prospect isn’t ready to make a decision, invite your prospect to call you any time he has a question or when he is ready to move forward.

13. Show your prospect comments from clients who have provided written testimonials about you and your services. Prospects place more credibility on comments from third parties than on comments from you. To emphasize the importance of testimonials, I tell lawyers that each testimonial from a consumer client is worth $30,000 in legal fees; each testimonial from a business client is worth $50,000 in fees. (A few jurisdictions do not allow lawyers to use testimonials, so make sure you check your rules of professional conduct.)

14. Show your prospect letters of recommendation from colleagues and professionals. These letters attest to the depth of your knowledge, skill, judgment and experience — and prove that your colleagues trust you. The more letters you have, the more they persuade. (As with testimonials, check your rules of professional conduct to see if you are allowed to use letters of recommendation in your jurisdiction.)

15. Provide your prospect a list of references. Testimonials and letters of recommendation are better than references because the person’s comments are already on paper. Even so, references increase credibility — and the more, the better. Include the person’s name, profession, phone number and e-mail address, with their permission, of course. Even if a prospect doesn’t call your references, the fact that you list references increases your credibility.

16. Provide your prospect with copies of articles that support the depth of his problem, reinforce the solution you recommend, or both. Generic articles — which you did not write and in which you are not quoted — prove that the problems and solutions you discuss are true. The more respected the publication, the more credibility attaches to what you say.

17. Give your prospect copies of published articles you’ve written. Even if the article’s subject is not directly on point, a published article proves that editors respect and trust you as a reliable source of information. Published articles build instant credibility and reinforce that you are an authority in your field of law. The more well-known and respected the publications, the more positively they reflect on you. The more articles you have, the better.

18. Give your prospect a list of results you have achieved or transactions you have completed for your clients. This serves as proof that you are good at what you do. Whatever service you offer, create a list of 10 to 20 results and describe each case or transaction in two or three sentences. You don’t need to include clients’ names, but the results are more believable when you do.

19. Before your first meeting, send your prospect a short letter (1) offering information about the service you want to market, (2) answering frequently asked questions, (3) discussing what takes place during your initial meeting, and (4) outlining your fees. When you put a prospect’s mind at ease, he is more willing to meet with you. What’s more, you can quickly get down to specifics because you don’t have to explain your services to each prospect.

20. Provide your prospect with a list of your competitive advantages — the many positive ways you differ from other lawyers. This list usually relates to the depth of your knowledge, skill, qualifications and experience.

21. Give your prospect a written schedule of services and fees. Salespeople are taught never to disclose the price until the end of their sales pitch. That’s one of many ways salespeople miss the boat: By not disclosing the price, they arouse suspicion, increase skepticism, and undermine their credibility. And when salespeople finally do reveal the price, their previous stonewalling has built such a barrier between you that you don’t want to do business with them at any price.

All lawyers have marketing strengths and weaknesses. You erase many weaknesses when you provide facts and third-party opinions that verify the depth of your knowledge, skill, judgment and experience — and the quality of services you provide to your clients. The more of these steps you follow, the stronger you make your marketing presentation.

Trey Ryder can be reached at trey@treyryder.com.


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