Alison Sharpe

Future Thinking: How law firms can use thought leadership to advance their strategic agenda

Posted on 7th March 2022 by Alison Sharpe

"In a world where organisations are increasingly judged on the quality of thinking they share, forward looking, predictive insight is much more valuable than retrospective. To be a thought leader you need to shine a light on what’s next"

Today, we find ourselves at a remarkable inflection point. Events over the past few years are transforming how we think about the future and the new economy. The opportunity for lawyers is to put themselves in their clients’ shoes and help them identify and react to the new set of challenges that lie ahead.

But what is next? Can you clearly see the future you will help your clients to navigate? Does your firm have compelling future thinking to share? Importantly, have you defined a new vision for your firm? Legal marketers need to be the navigators of what’s next.

The business case for future thinking

The challenges facing leaders and the organisations they lead include decarbonisation, hybrid working and digital transformation, to name a few.

Not only are your clients having to handle these issues internally, but they are also under increasing pressure to share their thinking to bring about clarity and direction.

Today every CEO is expected to be a thought leader which means that your clients are now competing with you for share of voice on these crowded topics.

Future vision and orientation are becoming even more important than past performance in securing investment, as business leaders recognise that they need to be seen as innovators in order to build reputation, deepen relationships and ultimately generate revenue. To be seen as trustworthy experts you must be more knowledgeable than your clients and be generous with that knowledge. That’s the value you can bring.

Defining your strategic agenda 

With clients judging your firm’s capability and innovation on the quality of your thought leadership, it is crucial to crystalise your strategic agenda. Carving out time now for the market-making activity that will drive your firm’s business success in three to five years’ time is more important than ever.

So how can we go about advancing that strategic agenda for the years ahead?

The first step is to define the area of focus for your future thinking. Man Bites Dog’s 4D strategic ideation model presents a process to guide this thinking:

  1. Market: Think big – start by taking an expansive look at the external market. What are the key macroeconomic megatrends shaping the future?
  2. Clients: Now put yourself in your clients’ shoes. Where do these issues intersect with the issues they are grappling with?
  3. Competitors: Which themes might help you differentiate? Where are those white spaces where competitors are weak or absent?
  4. You: Where do these themes align with your firm’s strengths and capabilities, or offers it makes sense for you to build? What is your comparative advantage?

Man Bites Dog's 4D ideation model

By combining these dimensions, you can shortlist a few promising opportunity areas or themes for the firm. Next, select a theme that is broad enough to act as a unifying umbrella – a golden thread that connects all (or most) of your services – in an emerging space that will help you deliver future growth. This is where you can win in the future. This is your strategic agenda.

Seeing further forward: the future thinking toolkit

Once you’ve developed a vision of the next economy and defined what your role in it might look like – your strategic agenda – you then need to take this vision to the next level.

The key to carving out a thought leadership position is having a strong core idea, especially as there can be a tendency for thought leadership to cluster around the same issues. To avoid thought followership, you need to have something new and different to say – a radical concept that is against the grain – and be able to distil this into a single core story.

There is power in telling stories with numbers. Backing up your idea with evidence by generating new proprietary data is essential. When it comes to research, it is important to build a new toolkit to be able to see further forward and evidence your insights with a reasonable degree of credibility and accuracy.

The future-ready professional services marketer 

In a world where organisations are increasingly judged on the quality of thinking they share, forward looking, predictive insight is much more valuable than retrospective. To be a thought leader you need to shine a light on what’s next.

The future-ready legal marketer has a critical role to play in developing and communicating your firm’s future thinking, both in terms of articulating your firm’s vision in your thought leadership campaigns and how it informs new marketing-led products and services to help your firm lead in the new economy.

Follow us