23 September 2021

Alfonso Everlet (Diferencia Legal): "The key is differentiation"


The Impact Lawyers interviews Alfonso Everlet, partner of Diferencia Legal, a new project called to completely transform the way law firms work and promote their work. In this interview he discusses such important issues as management, internal communication and client loyalty


1. What services do innovative law firms demand and which ones does Diferencia Legal cover?

Regardless of how we each conceptualise what we consider to be an innovative law firm, what is at least clear from the equation is that we are dealing with a law firm. In other words, we are dealing with a legal services company. As such, whether more innovative or less so, the firm - like any firm - needs to sell its services. If there are three disciplines dedicated body and soul to helping law firms reach the market, position themselves in front of their target audience and stakeholders (always aligned with the firm's strategy) and attract clients, these are Legal Marketing, Legal Communication and Business Development. And these are precisely the services that Diferencia Legal offers. 

In addition, thanks to our alliances and partners, we offer the possibility of tackling inorganic growth (buying and selling firms or portfolios) or tackling the digital transformation of a firm with all the guarantees. In short: we help firms to grow, and if the firm is innovative, it makes it much easier for us because it is working on its differentiation. 


2. Is the legal sector prepared for the emergence of projects as innovative as yours? How are you going to make them see the need to transform?

We have been doing this for more than 15 years. We have lived through the initial stage of the 'evangelisation' of the virtues of Legal Marketing, Legal Communication and Business Development, both from inside and outside law firms, and I believe that we are in a different market moment. What's more, something similar happened later with LegalTech (with a shorter period of acceptance). And the underlying idea is still the same: is the legal sector ready for projects like ours? Of course, and has been for a long time. 

In any case, there are always partners who are more visionary and partners who are more reluctant on the subject of marketing (and so many others), but I understand that this second group is guided by fears and pure ignorance. If these specialised disciplines exist in the legal sector, it is because it is a sector with very peculiar rules and buying cycle, in which a lot of business moves between lawyers and in which push tactics (the most invasive practices) not only generate rejection, but even damage reputation. Hence, when designing strategies and tactics that are scrupulously respectful of the necessary reputation in the legal sector, many of the firms' strategies are more pull and go through inbound marketing (or attraction marketing), combining it with powerful communication actions, which generates greater traction for business development actions. 

In any case, it is not up to us to make them see the need to 'transform'. Time (and the market) will put everyone in their place.  


3. Why should a law firm care about investing in and taking care of its brand?

I think it is essential to understand the concept I mentioned earlier as a starting point: a law firm is a legal services company. And a firm should invest in its brand and take care of it because it is its promise of value to the market. 

But also, in a market such as the legal market, where supply is increasing and demand is shrinking, competition is fierce. To face this scenario, the key for us is differentiation. In the end, there are only two ways to compete in the market: either you are cheaper (and there will always be someone cheaper than you) or you are different. Logically, we are committed to difference, to value, because we believe that this is the only sustainable model.


4. In your opinion, how committed do you think most law firms are to the technological development of their firms?

Pandemics aside, we live in the age of technocracy and law firms are no strangers to it. At the risk of being repetitive, let us start again from the premise that a law firm is a legal services company. As such, from the moment the client enters until the 'paper' comes out (and is invoiced), there is a whole process that constitutes the delivery of the service. This whole process can be broken down and can be optimised/improved by redesigning the map of processes and workflows and leveraging technology where advisable and necessary. Logically, when we say greater efficiency, we mean greater margin, which helps considerably to encourage many firms to embark on digital transformation processes. 

But there are other factors: one key factor is that technology is becoming cheaper and cheaper, which also makes it easier for firms to really make progress on the technology front

But there is also another, no less important factor: pressure from clients. Many of the legal departments are transforming digitally (some of them directly assisted by their own legal service providers) and if their providers lag behind in this process, it will be difficult for them to retain the client. 


5. Are lawyers concerned about management?

There certainly is. But I think you have chosen the right word: "concern"

Joking aside, it is clear that law schools do not teach law firm management, and the higher up the ladder you go, the more (and less optional) that concern for management becomes. 

Perhaps in the past it was more common to see the firm with a great technician at the head but a lousy manager, who still managed to stay afloat. These models are increasingly rare - even endangered - and the professionalisation of management is an unstoppable phenomenon, linked, as it cannot be otherwise, to the very survival of the firm. 


6. How relevant is internal communication in law firms, and is concern about this issue increasing because of the pandemic?

Internal communication is much more relevant than many managers and, above all, middle managers want to see. In the end, a fleet moves at the pace of its slowest ship, and if internal communication mechanisms are not designed to align the firm's strategy and objectives with those of its lawyers, it will be difficult to achieve those objectives, if only for the simple fact that these objectives may not even be known within the firm. At this point it is worth remembering that in a service firm, the brand promise is made by the employees

In any case, this is probably the great unresolved issue in the legal sector, exacerbated by the very organisation of law firms into kingdoms of taifas (practice areas) and with a strong and marked hierarchy from the partner to the lower levels. 

Be that as it may, it should be pointed out, as it is a common confusion, that internal communication (which is a management tool to improve the degree of involvement and commitment to the firm of the employees; that is, it seeks to align employees with the business) should not be confused with communication at the internal level (that they talk to each other). 


7. How does a law firm build client loyalty?

Well, the answer is relatively simple: by knowing its clients' needs very well and in depth, their business, their sector, even anticipating their needs and providing them with an excellent service (at a technical, human and experience level).

But there are multiple techniques, some even applying technology. If you are interested in the subject of customer retention using technology, I recommend this article published by Expansión.

But, as I said, there are multiple techniques: some involve offering training, others by organising events, others by making business connections between clients, others by organising meals, others by inviting them to boxes, etc. There are many options and very different styles, but the main premise must always be met: to provide an excellent service. Not what we consider to be excellent service, but what the client considers to be excellent service.

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