The Six Pillars: A Guide to Position Legal Services

Positioning is the act of choosing a specialism for your legal practice and then working hard to occupy that space in the eyes of your clients and prospective clients. In this article, we describe the six ways you can position a legal services business. 


The first pillar of positioning is jurisdiction — the place or places where you’re allowed and qualified to practice.

This is the pillar that is usually most firmly fixed when you start the positioning process. It is certainly possible to get qualified in other jurisdictions, or hire suitably qualified lawyers to do the work for you, but changing your firm to operate under a completely different legal system is probably a step too far for most lawyers.

So that raises the question, can your existing jurisdiction be a source of competitive advantage? Given that all your competitors within a jurisdiction are equally qualified to practice there, it would be understandable to assume not and yet I’ve seen firms who’ve made a go of it.

Lawyers fluent in second languages can do well with these types of positions — that of the trusted local advisor for clients outside of the jurisdiction. Any area with lots of scope for cross-border issues would be a good place to look if you want to build a position around your jurisdiction.


The second pillar of positioning is geography — positions based on being deeply connected with the people and legal challenges of a particular place.

Geographic positions are very well established and you’ll find a geographically positioned firm in almost every town since this is the foundation of the high street solicitors practice.

Firms relying on place as a way of differentiating themselves much be careful not to fall into the trap of confusing it with proximity. Merely being close you your clients is not the same as understanding what makes a particular community special.

The best geographically positioned firms go to great lengths to both be a part of their community, and also to understand the unique needs of their community.

Practice Area

If a local geographic position is the default position for high street solicitor’s, then practice area is the default for commercial lawyers.

Almost every lawyer who trains and qualifies with a big law firms is going to have developed some sort of specialism, and that is normally along practice area lines.

Practice areas are a great starting point for a strong position because they are inherently focused on clients needs, but most firms don’t focus tightly enough relative to their size and so despite a certain degree of specialism, still struggle to make an impact.

The best firms positioned by practice area are either ultra-specialised or they combine their practice area with one or more of the other pillars of positioning.

Client Industry Vertical

The fourth pillar is even more client focused than the last. Client vertical positions refer to those where the services offered are designed to meet the needs of a single industry segment and these positions can be very strong because it is very easy to identify who your target clients might be.

Vertical positions are especially useful for creating compound positions with one or more of the other pillars. A relatively broad practice area position of “employment lawyer” is tightened greatly with the addition of a vertical — “employment lawyers for offshore oil and gas” for example.

So far we’ve looked at the pillars of positioning that you can use just by deciding to focus, then picking a specialism that fits with your skills and expertise. They all require work, but as long as you have some degree of credibility in the area you choose to specialise in, you can be up and running with your new position from day one.

The last two pillars, systems and processes, and personality require a bit more upfront investment before you can really bring them to market.

Systems and Processes

The fifth pillar of positioning is the systems and processes you use to deliver your services to clients. This is the domain of the disrupters, the innovators, legal tech start-up and the companies that are widely known as “New Law”.

The possibilities within this pillar of positioning are endless and growing every day with advancements in technology and changes to the regulatory environment in which lawyers operate.

Positions built around systems and process benefit the most from first mover advantage and I think most established firms will struggle to develop strong positions in this way precisely because there is very little precedent you can duplicate.

Developing entirely new business models is inherently risky, as it involves large amounts of upfront investment. I think this means that the firms who do it well stand to make big gains, but large downsides are equally possible.


The final pillar of positioning a law firm is personality. Personality can be defined as the unique combination of characteristics that make up someone’s unique character.

Positioning by personality could be incredibly simple and effective for a gregarious sole practitioner, but getting everybody in a large firm to adopt the same personality could be a much more challenging task.

On the whole, I think positioning by personality should be an absolute last resort for law firms unless it comes very naturally. It is almost impossible to fake and only occasionally emerges after many years of focused and careful hiring decisions.

Positioning build around personality also need to be underpinned by strong leadership figures. This make it quite unsuitable for most traditional partnerships where there are more than a handful of people calling the shots.

Back to Ink+Pixels
Mike Bean

Words by
Mike Bean