In this interview with Asia Law Portal, Prachi Shrivastava, Founder of Lawfinity Solutions, discusses the challenges and opportunities in marketing law practices in India based on her extensive legal industry experience in business development and marketing.
What inspired you to found Lawfinity Solutions and how do you help lawyers?
Lawyers have fascinating personalities. Forceful, defined silhouettes that stand out in a crowd – already a good starting point as a brand to sculpt. I feel I have a knack for reading them.
I got a taste early in my career for detecting which market factors fuel the growth of law practices. What influences transitions. This was as a markets journalist reporting exclusively on the legal sector.
I had the initial conduit to stitch the brand to the business. High value communication networks – friends in the elite business media community helped.
Founding Lawfinity Solutions was a no-brainer.
We help lawyers identify the loopholes in their client acquisition efforts. Next, we devise a short term, mid-term and long-term roadmap to plug those loopholes. Finally, we execute on the map in collaboration with our clients. Our approach to the roadmap? To consider every piece that links into the brand’s perception. To stand in the shoes of a variety of stakeholders. Clients are surprised at the range of practice management activities that can be covered under this effort. We believe in solving deeply.
We address the problem for a practice of any size or age. But we work best with practices looking for a strategy makeover.
I am a lawyer qualified to practice in India, with over 11 years of post-qualification experience including over 7 years as editor at legal news portal Legally India – also writing for the then legal full pagers in Mint. My work experience with law firms and chamber practices is limited to law school internships with the likes of (erstwhile) Amarchand Mangaldas Delhi, Economic Laws Practice (Mumbai), the chambers of Geeta Luthra and Pinky Anand, among others. I founded Lawfinity Solutions in April 2019. Since then, I have been pursuing PR, marketing and business development for the legal sector.
What is unique about legal marketing and business development in India’s legal market?
Cloaked visibility put to its ultimate test – that’s the definition of Indian law practice marketing and business development.
Regressive regulation hasn’t allowed this jurisdiction’s legal sector to make up its mind about its comfort with being seen. Too little – and you’re not doing your duty toward your practice growth. Too “much” and you begin to get self-conscious of the snarky glare. Therefore, traditional methods of branding and PR take a backseat to ‘invisible marketing’.
Now this plays out in two directions.
The positives first. Densely occupied roadside seating of a restaurant is far superior to a large neon sign of an almost identical indoor restaurant across the road. The sights and smells of tasty food fed to happy customers do a lot more to attract new customers passing by – than the signboard.
Invisible marketing relies on trust building, ‘Guru’ perception, recommendations and relationships. It is perfect for the non-institutionalised Indian market. Relationships rule in assigning mandates at home. It’s also compatible with marketing ‘advisory intellect’, which is not a commodity.
The inclination of the Indian lawyer client exceedingly is to be ‘seen without being seen’. It is an everyday challenge for her marketer to tap newer lateral solutions to fulfill this magical ask.
And yet, you’ll lose count of the number of lawyer brand materials reciting the same narrative of ‘telling’ prospects why they are superior to other practices. This instead of showing them imagery that makes the trust inherently flow. Which brings me to the downside of a market largely relying on ‘invisible marketing’ alone.
It hinders quality evolution.
Lawyers afford to operate at half peddle, or lesser, on their marketing and BD efforts. They cite ‘conservatism’. Mentally they take refuge in endless reference points. These are practices not even trying their hand at organised client acquisition. This ambivalence in their choice of side of the rope (be seen or not be seen) gives suitably half-baked results. This leads them into the trap of seeing BD as ‘pure expense’. The budgets they open up for their marketing advisors rarely lure the advisors into pushing the clients to follow a comprehensive plan. And the loop sets into motion.
We are attempting to fix this systemic issue through staggered roadmaps.
What unique challenges do lawyers face when seeking to market their services in India?
The zip-slide down into commoditisation – the Indian lawyer is up against gravity on this one.
The legal sector is already globally over-saturated with, largely, identical service offers. If we only consider core technicality. But India is also dealing with the cost conscious consumer of services. Add to this the dwindling employable talent pool. More lawyers than ever before now turn to entrepreneurship or quit the sector altogether. Innovation, naturally then, is the last thing on the practice head’s mind.
To show differentiation practices largely rely on establishment size and age. Obvious tactics: The availability of capital to tap diverse verticals and talent, a headstart on valued relationships and marquee mandates, and the appetite for business development expense.
There’s massive opportunity here in embracing cultural transitions.
What did you mean when you mentioned massive opportunity? Which cultural transitions are you referring to?
First, moving from generalist approaches to hyper-niching. You – as lawyer – are facing an unmatured global hub of innovation. The hub is solving so much and facing enormous regulatory shape-shifting. You, literally, have dense foliaged branches of legal problems to solve. Why won’t you just pick a branch? No one is asking you to not solve for related practice areas, but at least lead with one rare expertise. Don’t dilute your brand’s messaging.
Second, where there’s profession-wide inertia toward tech-adaptation there’s a potential lead for first-movers. Novel in house systems of automation that enhance client experience. Ease of use ranks high on the barometer of service excellence. Take cues from offshore law firms getting recognised for designing software such as for litigation strategy analytics, Cloud based sensitive information disclosures portals, web-based app interfaces with clients, and more.
Third, recognise that the talent available to you are professionals with massive amounts of independent opportunity at their disposal. Retaining them for your practice will be a true test of values over and above your legacy and rainmaking power. This will put to test your everyday administrative and managerial abilities, your emotional intelligence and social quotient, your trustability and how well you keep yourself updated on best practices in mental health, gender biases and employee welfare.
The syntax for your contributors has changed. Your food is delivered by a delivery “partner”. Practices who recognise their talent as their partners, regardless of designation, are ahead in the game.
What are the key elements of a good legal business development and marketing plan?
If I wrote to you, John, proposing an offer today, I’d naturally anticipate to receive a response from you accepting, declining or deferring your decision. By today, tomorrow or the next working day.
When I first don’t hear back from you, I’d feel the slightest tinge of irk. But I’d reason that you got busy, unwell or the mail perhaps reached your junk folder. And I’d wait some more.
Eventually, I’d reach the end of my patience. At that time how I behave is crucial. I may take your non-response as implied rejection – experience anger, defeat or both and probably never email you again. Also, someone else in a similar situation to mine may even be hesitant to email 10 others with similar profiles as you, after this incident.
A good marketing and business development plan enables you to do better than that. It keeps you in the pink of mental health while you’re in-waiting for some dozens of reverts and responses from diverse platforms. Keeps you from self-rejecting. It seals your momentum. Keeps it untouched by current events in the life of your practice.
It accomplishes this through (ever-nearing) perfect knowledge. The knowledge of what transpires behind the scenes for your targets and your prospects. And the know-how of stage by stage, step by step gestation. The plan is cognizant of a cycle of nurturing. It doesn’t take a professional to tell you that “results take time” and “there are no guarantees”. But it does take a professional’s plan to tell you exactly what stage of nurturing your communication has reached, and what should you focus on instead of merely waiting.
So, in sum, at the most elementary level, marketing and business development plans take the pain out of the wait.
Whether they do this through PR or through influencer positioning, through networking or through listings, etc are all mechanisms unique to every strategist and how much she chooses to deploy each.
But a good marketing and BD plan for legal would universally take into account
1. The decision procedures and market practices unique to legal
2. Deep understanding of personality characteristics and cognitive processes in legal.
3. Put these in context of mainstream branding principles and best practices
3. The practical realities and circumstances of the practice head buying the plan – legal branding and sales is as yet lawyer-facing instead of sales professional facing
What are the advantages of working with an external consultant in legal business development and marketing?
Lawyers bill time. That’s what they also save working with an external consultant.
One, if you want to learn fast, learn from the failures and successes of six others instead of failing six times through trial and error. External advisors are uniquely positioned to help clients apply concepts from diverse practices and organisational cultures, in a fraction of the time they’ll take to go it alone.
Does this amount to conflict? I see it as intensifying healthy competition.
Second, clients are saving on the massive costs of recruitment, training and administration of an in-house team. Otherwise, that exercise is not just a purse burden but also steals time from executing on BD or legal. This while the BD race is on. And it’s also not a one-time cost. You’re basically entering the ecosystem of poaching.
In contrast, independent service providers use ice-breaking time before integrating into your psychology. Post that the pain of not only their own administration but also the lion’s share of the commitment to maintain long-term relationship with you is their stress (at least in the Indian industry where service providers as yet don’t enjoy an equal leverage there, largely).
Then there are costs more obvious to the naked eye – such as the affiliated benefits of an external consultant’s independent alliances whether with the media or with other platforms.
But a fascinating icing on the cake – for those who can take it, cocktail bitters to the others – is the lack of deference in an independent consultant. You can expect to hear raw intellectual honesty from someone for whom you’re not the only source of income. And I can’t begin to emphasize the importance of that in as artsy a deliverable as branding.
An in-house team is focused on you. A good in-house team is obsessed with you. And that’s an unparalleled benefit in BD which doesn’t succeed on templates but on personal meditations on market motivations. A long-standing consulting relationship can be commercially enabled to almost mirror a symbiotic in-house team.
What are your goals for the future of Lawfinity Solutions?
Lawfinity Solutions will be the conduit for opening up conventional practices to their first marketing efforts and modern practices to evolved and sophisticated standards of marketing.
We have taken significant pain so far in terms of conditioning, commercials and innovation on this journey. And we’re constantly prepping ourselves with the infrastructure for progressive overload.
I, personally, am a believer in deep growth over steep growth. The rest is left to the market’s tectonic designs.