Whether you loved or hated the series finale of Game of Thrones, we can all agree on one thing: Tyrion’s appeal to the Westeros representatives as to why Bran should be king was eloquent, moving and accurate. Tyrion said that by defining us, our stories unite us all. An effective story looks back to what has shaped us and looks forward to where we want to go. Our stories drive us toward our goals and supply a reservoir of strength from which to draw in order to overcome the inevitable challenges we face.
Just as successful leaders and nations (mythical and real) have a well-defined story, so do the most successful law firms. Clients choose to work with you, and candidates choose to work for you, based on your story. The most successful firms take control of their own narrative. Those that don’t, lose credibility and cede ground to the competition.
Understand your own story
Can you tell your firm’s story? To do so, first you need to understand your core competitive competencies and values. Define your unique value proposition to potential clients and talent. “We are collegial” or “we want to build in private equity” are in and of themselves not well-defined stories.
Be honest with yourself—what do you do well? What don’t you do well? What areas are and will be profitable looking ahead? Where is there potential for growth and what can be defended against competitors? How have you demonstrated credibility in your market?
From answering these questions, your identity will bubble up and give focus to how you are going to grow and what your strategy is. These are the elements that make your firm a destination for clients and talent. With a better understanding of your own identity, you can double down on your true strengths—or if you want to or need to diversify, you can do so from a sturdier foundation.
Once you understand your own story, you then need to decide how to communicate it.
Tell the story internally before you tell it to the world
Control how your story is told. If you don’t, the market will do it for you. In that case, you can be assured of being portrayed as drifting or in decline. There is no standing still when the rest of the market is moving, and your competitors can be depended on to give things a little push.
Telling your story starts internally. Everyone in your firm needs to know and understand your story so that it gets told correctly. Everyone from practice leaders to the receptionist at the front desk should know what the firm stands for, its history of excellence, where it is going and the culture you live and work by. Words are one thing, but the story is embodied, and thus made credible, by your actions—the work you do, the people you hire and the behavior you reward.
Once your story is defined internally, you are ready to tell it to the world. Make sure to be consistent: tell the same story in your words, in your work, in your marketing and in your recruiting.
Don’t over-tell your story or make things too complicated. Don’t add storylines— i.e., practices or lawyers—that don’t fit into the plotlines you have carefully created. There’s no need to write the next “Game of Thrones.” In trying to be everything, one often ends up being nothing—with a story and identity in tatters.
Firms have to look at where they have been, decide what works and move toward a well-defined future. A credible and compelling story binds and motivates your lawyers and staff, wins the trust of clients and attracts talent. The details of the plot may stray at times, but with a strong foundation and clear vision, the story will inevitably reach its destination.
“There is nothing in the world more powerful than a good story,” Tyrion explained. “Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.”