The Power of Narrative: Law Firms Need to Find Theirs To Differentiate Themselves

by JD Supra Perspectives

...if banks can tell powerful stories, anyone can do it.

Unless you’ve been living off the grid, you know that TED talks are wildly popular. One reason why is that each 20-minute presentation is carefully scripted. The audience moves with the speaker’s experience through a narrative arc. They are shown, not told, about a perspective they may not have considered before, by a speaker who shares personal information, about a topic the audience may have previously had little interest in. Yet they listen enraptured, eager to learn more.

While many use the terms story and narrative interchangeably, stories focus on the teller. Narratives, however, focus on the audience and build an emotional connection.

Narratives focus on the audience and build an emotional connection... 

I recently heard Wells Fargo CMO Jamie Moldafsky speak about one of the bank’s new ads. In the minute-long piece (saga-length by TV standards), two women are shown learning sign language in order to communicate with a child they are about to adopt. The spot ends with the women meeting a young girl, signing, “We are going to be your new mommies.” The female voiceover says, “Everyone works hard for a reason. Working together, we can help you prepare financially for when two becomes three."

As an adoptive parent, I teared up. The stats are overwhelming, too—1.6 million views on YouTube.

Law firm messaging has the same potential for building relationships.

Professional service firms have been slow to move to the power of narrative. Many still focus on firm history and a recitation of corporate values, which, while laudable, are likely shared by many firms. You can only mention client service and business-oriented results so many times. But if banks can tell powerful stories, anyone can do it.

A law firm narrative needs to be a compelling tale of how and why the firm serves its clients as it does, and the gratification the firm draws from the privilege of working with its clients.

A law firm narrative needs to be a compelling tale of how and why the firm serves its clients as it does, and the gratification the firm draws from the privilege of working with its clients. Show your clients that their needs are your first priority and you have the special skills to help them, both on a rational and emotional level.

Consider this collateral:

“Our law firm has unparalleled depth in biosciences and pharma. More than 40% of our lawyers have advanced degrees in the biosciences. We’ve filed 2,500 patents to date. We live and breathe Hatch-Waxman. Our practice sweeps the globe.”

The message that comes across is “We are good. In fact, we are damn good. You should be grateful if you get the opportunity to hire us. In fact, you probably can’t afford us.”

Now, this:

“Jenny Chin, then age 8, had an aggressive form of bone cancer that was difficult to treat. Our client, Amazing Bio Startup, developed a drug it believed could help patients like Jenny. We patented the compound, prevailed on re-examination of the patent, shepherded the drug through FDA trials and review as quickly as possible, and wrote the licensing agreements that led to its development and sale. Today, thanks to Amazing Bio Startup, Jenny is in the fourth grade and argues with her parents about cello lessons. That’s what patent law means to us.”

Again, the focus is on the end consumer—Jenny and her family. It's all about the law firm’s client and the client’s achievements. It goes beyond corporate values and touches an emotional chord.

Find those stories in your practice and in your firm. You’ve likely won water rights for farmers, protected the interests of struggling mom-and-pop franchisees, or helped a tech company prosper, which added millions of dollars to the local economy and whose employees support the local public school, where they were able to rehab a play yard. Show how your client’s financial success allowed it to make a donation to the local community foundation. These are feel-good stories that create market impact.

It’s not simple. It takes work. You can’t just throw a baby or a Golden Retriever into your content. But your narrative is there. You just need to unearth it.


[Susan Kostal is an editor, writer, business development strategist and media coach with over 25 years experience on the beat and in the C-suite.  Susan's expertise includes legal industry trends, marketing, communications, and public relations.]

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