Claire discusses the importance of brand, brand consistency and why creating a unique, consistent brand voice is the key to differentiation in a competitive legal market.
In this podcast, I talk with Claire Wivell Plater from a great firm based in Sydney and Brisbane, Australia called The Fold.
[DAN:] Someone once said to me that law and innovation is an oxymoron. And needless to say I didn’t believe it then and I still don’t believe it now. Sure a significant number of law firms probably would not say they were innovative; but with a tectonic shift particularly being influenced by web and technology, to borrow the phrase from Bob Dylan, “The times are changing.”
I recently read a great article on the Australasian Practice Legal Management Association blog, and it was an interview with the Managing Partner of – dare I say it, a wonderfully creative and innovative firm that is fixated on providing both exceptional legal services to its niche market, as well as an online experience to match. So I had to get on the phone and talk with the firm’s Managing Partner, Claire Wivell Plater. And I begin my conversation with Claire by asking her, “Where did this all start?”
[CLAIRE:] Well, we had been operating for a number of years and we decided that we needed to refresh our image and really define our branding. We were re-structuring at that time, having been part of another firm, and we wanted to communicate a valid proposition to our clients without actually – well I guess in a way that it spoke for itself. So the whole idea was to create something that would facilitate that process.
[DAN:] Was that difficult given that you’re working within the confines of another firm?
[CLAIRE:] Yes, it was. Because it was fair to say at that time that we had very different I guess, views about the way that we wanted to operate. So we had actually restructured and separated from that firm a few years earlier and we needed to establish a new website. So that became apparent then that we needed to re-brand and rather than just simply come up with another name, we decided to do it very professionally and worked with some consultants who helped us establish a brand that’s interesting; that reflected our values.
[DAN:] And was the financial services industry always something that you wanted to niche down on?
[CLAIRE:] It always had been. We set up this firm in 2002 as a response to the reform of the Financial Services Regulatory Regime. There was an amendment to the Corporation’s Act to include a licensing and define regulatory regime for all financial services. We have been solely working in that area since 2002. So the establishment of our business was in response to that and we had always worked in that area.
[DAN:] And so from a branding perspective, where did it all start? So you know you’ve got this idea of what this fold legal is going to look like. How did it come to be in terms of a branding strategy?
[CLAIRE:] Funny enough, we didn’t have a name, so with then agreed we need a name, “What’s it going to be?” And it’s really hard to come up with a name for a business because the temptation is to want it to mean something or to use your own name which I definitely didn’t want to do. Or that they should speak some sort of meaning that relates to what you actually do. So basically, everything we came up with was incredibly boring so we decided we’d get some expert help. And we were lucky enough to engage a firm to help us that talked us into doing something they called a “brand foundations report.” And this is one of the best things we could have done because they interviewed us, they interviewed our clients, they distilled into a report for us the essence of what they perceived we believed about who we were, what we do and how we did it. And that’s a document which informed not only the name but also a lot of the material about us that is on our website as well.
[DAN:] Wow. You just didn’t stop at brand, did you? I mean when you go to your website, this new frontier sort of firm has sort of embarked on – I’m speaking in particular of you know, there’s free information, there’s videos and there’s even products. In the context of that, was the brand’s strategy also about pushing envelope in that regard?
[CLAIRE:] Well we’d always had products and the legal training sort of video and bits on the website was something that we were doing around the same time. So if anything, that was already part of the vision and part of what we wanted to communicate better to our clients. The differentiating factor about The Fold, or Gold [0:04:54] as we used to be named – very cheesy name, was that we were prepared to share our knowledge with our clients and we were prepared, if you like, to open up the book and show the clients what was in there.
We feel that Law shouldn’t have to be mysterious or distant to clients. That it should be the given. And the skill that we bring is not so much in communicating the law [0:05:18] that are relatively well-known but in helping the client to understand how to apply the law to their business. That’s been something which has been a fundamental philosophy of our business right since 2002 when we started. That’s what led to the development of the products; to empower our clients and demonstrate our expertise and then allow us to value add from there.
[DAN:] That in itself is a fairly significant paradigm shift, I suppose, from what other law firms tend to do. Was there any resistance within your team around that?
[CLAIRE:] No. (Laughs) I guess because the team started with me. So I built all of that during our garage phase back in 2002. And essentially the team that we now have are people who subscribe to that philosophy about how law can and should be delivered to clients. We are very keen on working with our clients, preparing our clients, minimising what I call over-lawyering; making things simple and elegant and trying to be very solution-focused.
[DAN:] So that’s the culture. So you recruit into that culture?
[CLAIRE:] Very much so.
[DAN:] Wow. And again from the branding perspective, you know, the website is somewhat of an incarnation of your values as a firm and how you do things differently. Are there any other sort of marketing touch points that you feel, you know, embellish that as well?
[CLAIRE:] Well we do a lot of social media. And we’re very particular in the way that we do our social media. We write blogs, and there’s a very definitive style for our blogs. They have to be information-rich; they need to be very light in touch in terms of the why that they are written so that they speak to the clients conversationally rather than in a legal way. We get a lot of feedback on those blogs in relation to – I guess clients are particularly saying that they found them incredibly useful because they are just [0:07:20] things. They can understand them and they contain relevant information.
We also then make sure that we tell the clients what to do with the information; what it means to them and how to go about using it. So the blog, if you like, are a distillation in a blog form of the way we do our advices as well. So if the client likes that style of communication then they’re going to like our advices. So we’re kind of training our clients, if you like, to like the way we do things before they come to us. And in terms of marketing touch points, what we do with those is we then release them through social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., and they get picked up by our industry press. He then, more often than not, will report on what we were actually blogging about. So that’s been very effective for us in terms of raising the ratings of the firm in building press [0:08:17].
[DAN:] It’s what I love about the firm. This is really nice synergy from your online marketing at least, where you’ve got that lightness of voice. There’s this very, you know, non-legalish feel to everything that you do. And it’s just synergystic. I often find that lots of law firms struggle with getting that synergy. You know, they may have one dynamic or creative person within the firm and yet the next person who’s blogging or the next person who’s harnessing social media has a completely different sort of contextual feel to it. And so therefore, you’ve got this sort of almost disrupt within the marketing touch points.
[CLAIRE:] Yes. Well, you’ve got to be incredibly diligent about editing otherwise you’ll get that problem. And to be [0:09:02] that you know that’s how we meant it. Nothing goes out without having been reviewed and making sure that we – all the extraneous words and any [0:09:12] language is eliminated. So we’re pretty firm about that. And obviously when you grow, that’s a major issue because you got to make sure you’ve got the resolve is internally [0:09:26], and it’s not easy. It’s such an important brand value for us that it’s something that we take time to do.
[DAN:] And Claire, getting content from your lawyers, is that problematic at times?
[CLAIRE:] Oh no, not at all. Well, because we’re working in the frontage of financial services regulation, so we’re seeing issues and problems that are arising all the time that are usually quite unique. And so it’s quite easy for us to distil it into a blog and send out some information. But even if it’s not something that’s at the forefront, don’t forget we have all the products and then the manuals and samples that we publish. So we always find a subject that is interesting and relevant to something that’s going on that we can pull information from and are interesting resources as well; so not a problem.
But I have to say we do try always with our blogs to make sure that they’re very topical and hitting issues that we’re seeing with our clients that particular time. So if it’s resonating with one client because that comes with their adviser, it’s likely to resonate with another.
[DAN:] And from a marketing perspective, is there things that you wish you were doing more of? Just in terms of sort of brand…
[CLAIRE:] Probably one thing that we would do more of is the sort of thing we’re doing now which is talking to other lawyers. Like all of them, our biggest challenge is recruiting quality lawyers who subscribe to our philosophy. So, we probably spend more of our time talking to our client base than we do to other law firms and potential hires for us. And I think that’s something that we’re addressing now. I guess from my perspective, I’ve always been focused on the external in terms of bringing clients in the door but of course, you’ve also got to recruit your talents as well; and that’s very important.
[DAN:] And what’s the future look like for the firm?
[CLAIRE:] Well, innovation is definitely the key for us. One of the projects that we’re working on right now is that we have invested in some technology that is going to build a compliance review system to social media posts.
[CLAIRE:] Yeah. It’s really exciting. We’re partnering with some technology developers who initiated this project about a year ago. And they brought us in and our staff; invited us to become investors in it and contribute the legal input. And we help them to create a sort of business rules which effectively use natural language programming to create algorithms which can interpret social media text, determine whether or not they’re great in the relevant requirements and rank them in terms of risk. And then basically provide feedback and in some cases, suggestions to amend them to make them compliant. That’s something that we are beta testing right now and will be launched later in the year.
[DAN:] Fantastic! Claire, thanks for joining me.
[CLAIRE:] Thanks very much, Dan. Great to talk to you.
A great chat there with Claire Wivell Plater about her terrific firm, The Fold. And to learn more, of course, simply Google thefold.com.au