How Nassau County-based law firms are using a New York satellite office to distinguish themselves from the competition.
Here’s the bottom line: Non-lawyer clients can’t easily distinguish your firm from that of your competition, and that’s bad for client development.
The reality is, the general public, including even more sophisticated business clients, don’t understand the nuances of the legal profession. Nor do they care to.
But here’s what we do know. When people choose any kind of service provider, they prefer to work with professionals they perceive as being successful.
You’ll notice that the word “perceive” is highlighted in the preceding sentence.
Yes, it’s important to have some track record of success. However, in many cases, clients are willing to pay a hefty premium not to the service provider with the most experience or best track record, but to the professional who does a better job of communicating their successes.
This is what makes testimonials and positive reviews so effective. Call it cliche, but that’s why lawyers in the plaintiff’s bar make sure that they show up to court in a car that’s nicer than that of their client.
One way that many Nassau county firms are communicating an image of success is by opening a second office in the City. And they are doing it inexpensively by using executive suite providers to open smaller, satellite offices in Manhattan.
Clients believe that your firm must be successful if it can afford a second office in NYC.
Clients have this perception that lawyers with two offices must have very busy practices. Why else would you carry the additional expense? Plus, they believe that opening an office in New York is very expensive, and for your firm to be able to handle that expense, it must be successful.
Clients like the idea that they can meet you in your NYC office (but likely never will).
For many Nassau County-based firms, it’s possible that a high percentage of their clients commute to the City for work. Having the option to meet in the City so they don’t have to take a significant amount of time off from work may be a big relief to clients.
In reality, the client may never need to take advantage of the opportunity. But simply knowing that the option is available may be that little edge that gets your firm hired over another where (to the client at least) all other things are equal.
Clients expect to pay higher fees to firms in NYC.
Regardless of fairness or accuracy, clients located in the City or who still have strong ties to the City (for example, those who recently moved from the City), expect that lawyers who just have offices outside NYC will charge lower fees than those with an office in NYC.
And further, clients are generally more amenable to paying higher fees to attorneys with an office in NYC.
We see this over and over with our own attorney clients. Firms from Long Island, Westchester, North Jersey, and even as far as Philadelphia, have reported that when they opened an office in New York City, they were able to command higher fees in their home office.
And an interesting additional twist, firms have reported that, after opening a second satellite office in New York City, they started getting higher settlement offers from adversaries.
You don’t have to develop a NYC practice (or active presence) for your satellite office to pay dividends.
Because of the potentially lower cost of a workstation or small office, there’s no need for a Nassau County firm to spend the time or energy to develop a NYC based practice in order to justify the expense.
This may be part of the business plan for some firms, and in several cases a workstation rental has been a stepping stone into a large full-time office rental.
However, for the vast majority of firms based within a commutable distance from the City, they simply view their second office as an inexpensive tool to get a marketing edge over their competition. If the firm ends up landing just one extra client by opening a satellite office, the small investment actually becomes quite profitable.