Practice Pointers, Small Law Firms

The Practice: Your Competition, Isn’t — Part 2

Last week, I focused on the stupidity of competing on price as opposed to competing on quality and service. And I understand, young lawyers believe all they have is the ability to compete on price. More experienced lawyers believe they have to compete on price because today’s clients don’t care about anything but price.

You can convince yourself of anything. As for price, convince yourself of this — continue to compete on price and you’ll spend your career becoming the cheapest lawyer in town.

Now let’s talk about using the competition as a resource….

One of the mistakes you make as a lawyer is thinking that your “competition” does exactly what you do. While that may be the case with certain lawyers, there are plenty of lawyers in your area of practice that don’t do exactly what you do. Take a divorce lawyer. Now called “family law,” a divorce lawyer may handle dissolution of marriage, child support, modifications, pre-nuptial agreements, post-nuptial agreements, and maybe even adoptions. I know plenty of divorce lawyers that don’t handle child support issues or adoptions. I know divorce lawyers that mostly represent women, or men, or gay couples, or won’t handle a divorce where there are kids — they like it simple. On the outside, all these family lawyers compete, until you get to know them.

The same applies in personal injury. Some lawyers only handle auto accidents. Some concentrate in motorcycle or boating accidents. Some only do medical malpractice, and some won’t take those cases.

There are criminal lawyers that don’t handle federal cases, or don’t handle DUIs. There are commercial litigators that don’t handle evictions for their commercial clients, and estate planning lawyers that don’t consider themselves probate litigators.

I could go on. Maybe I will.

No, never mind, some of you get it.

Don’t ever assume that your “competition” actually is a competitor. If they are, dig deeper.

What does your competition do when there is a conflict? What do they do when they need co-counsel for a co-defendant? If you know they send these cases to others, make the pitch: “How can we work together?” Are there certain judges or lawyers with whom your competition doesn’t work well? Maybe in those cases your competition will consider sending you a referral, after you’ve sent them one first.

That’s right: send your competition a case. They’ll call. They’ll call and act surprised. You’ll give no reason for the referral, or maybe you’ll tell them you’re a little busy and thought it would be a good case for them. It costs money to build a practice, and part of that cost is called “giving.” I know we think our job as lawyers is to “take” — take every client that walks in the door as long as they have a heartbeat and some funds — but giving is the same thing as investing, and it brings returns.

So drop the mentality that your competition is a closed door for you. Explore the possibility of a relationship where you both succeed.

Oh, and by the way, I know I’ve said this before, but as far as taking a referral fee for sending a case to your competition? Don’t.

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

(hidden for your protection)

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