Chick-Fil-A has built itself into a giant in the fast-food industry. It didn’t happen overnight. And it didn’t transpire without adhering to certain core principles. Here are four ways that you can model your law practice after Chick-Fil-A and position yourself for greater success.
Here’s the thing about commodities. People either want or need them. There is usually a great deal of competition for things people want or need. In order to reach your intended client, you have to distinguish yourself from others in the marketplace. Maybe you can do that with clever marketing – with talking cows that don’t spell very well. Maybe you can make a splash with the pricing of your services and implementing a different billing structure.
But regardless of how you get your intended client’s attention, you will have to deliver an effective product. If you fail to deliver on your promises, that client you’ve landed with clever ploys is going to walk out the door into the arms of a competitor.
If you’ve ever eaten at Chick-Fil-A (and at this point, even if you haven’t), you know that thanking a Chick-Fil-A employee will result in you hearing the words, “My pleasure.” Courtesy shouldn’t be a novel concept, but it has managed to become so. “People do business with people they know, like, and trust.” That statement didn’t originate with me, but I’ve heard it so frequently and from so many different sources that I’m not sure to whom I should give attribution.
Return phone calls. Reply to e-mails. Speak to other live human beings, rather than being distracted by your cell phone. Civility and in-person interaction are becoming lost art forms. And I’m not talking about your dealings with opposing counsel here. I’m talking about your clients. Those people you rely on to keep your business afloat. The number of lawyers who ignore correspondence from clients and treat them as mere inconveniences is appalling. That being said, you should likewise extend courtesy to your staff, the attorneys you work with or for, or those who work for you, and even opposing counsel.
Most of us work in relatively small legal communities. You’re likely going to work with many of the same lawyers over the course of the next 30 or 40 years (since most of us are going to work until the day grim Death meets us at our desk). You can choose to have a lifetime of contentious incivility, or you can exhibit good manners and a little bit of politeness.
The owners of Chick-Fil-A don’t shy away from their worldview. They’re closed on Sunday. And when asked, they speak with candor about social issues. Often to their financial detriment. But being candid, even when it’s not in your short-term best interest is a matter of integrity. For them and for you.
There are going to be times you have to communicate hard truths to those you work for, against, and with. And the thing about hard truths is they can be hard to communicate. But if you’re in a bad venue with bad facts, your client needs to know well in advance they need to be ready to offer up a real settlement number. If a partner or associate you work with is headed toward a misstep, you’ve got to have the gumption to warn her of it.
Everyone in your circle of contacts (clients, co-workers, opposing counsel) should recognize you as a person of principle, who is frank and forthright. But being honest and candid is not an excuse for doing so without tact or courtesy.
“We didn’t invent the chicken, just the chicken sandwich.” I don’t know whether Chick-Fil-A’s slogan is historically accurate, but for all practical intents, it might as well be. They have cornered the market on the chicken sandwich. The vast majority of fast food places now offer a Southern-style chicken sandwich as a result. But you know what the difference is – most of those other places also sell the chicken sandwich, in addition to their burgers or myriad other offerings. You know what Chick-Fil-A sells? Chicken. They aren’t trying to be all things to all people. And neither should you.
You need to find what you do well, build on it, hone it, and sell it to others. I started in trucking defense litigation. And I’ve grown to love it. At this point, I’ve spent thousands upon thousands of hours practicing trucking work. Not only on my caseload, but also on the peripheral stuff I need to know. The things I need to know and do to be better and more informed than my opponent. When it comes to trucking defense litigation, I want to be a monolith. When people need someone to defend their trucking company in Alabama, I want them to think of my firm and me. I know it’s going to take time, and I’m in it for the long haul.
Find your niche. Develop it. Introduce yourself to people who are in need of what you do. And give them reason to believe you are the best person to handle their legal matters.
In the legal market people have choices. Usually, lots of choices. Find a way to make yourself and your service visible, and once you’ve got your intended client’s attention, deliver on the service you promised. Exhibit courtesy and civility in interacting with your clients, and … well … everyone else for that matter. Operate with candor. Be forthright and trustworthy in your dealings with others. Don’t hide from your principles, especially when you hit a rough patch – that’s when your principles and character are revealed. Finally, create a niche and make yourself a cornerstone within that practice area.