When I originally wrote this article nearly nine years ago, I was thinking about how to alter the market’s perception of ‘legal vendors.’ Here we are today, nearly a decade later and not much has changed. It is up to our community to make the transformation; it clearly won’t happen by itself. And while I don’t believe a simple name change will instantaneously adjust buyer’s perceptions, we need to collectively begin that process.

The definition of vendor– “a person or agency that sells,” * is not a negative implication. Let’s face it, we all sell something! Legal Vendor is a broad category, one that includes organizations and individuals who deliver products and/or services to lawyers and law firms. There is nothing wrong with selling products/services, it’s what we all do to make a living. Lawyers/law firms are selling whether they like to think so or not. And if you’re not selling, you’re probably about to fail.

For over 25 years I have worked for and with legal vendors. In the early days of legal technology, we were often called on to educate audiences about the benefits of technology or conduct product ‘shoot-outs’, and then seemingly overnight vendors got a bad name in the legal vertical. We were viewed as bad-guys and hucksters. The how’s and why’s of getting to this point are worth examining, but they’re probably not as important as what we must do to change relationships between customers and providers.

How can we swing the pendulum back and should we even try?

I believe we must work together to create partnerships that are mutually beneficial. Every vendor needs to take an honest look at what you promise and how you deliver on those promises. How is it possible that every company is the ‘industry-leading’ or ‘insert your rhetoric here’? Attorneys and the other professionals working in law firms are a cynical bunch, they’ve been burned, their expectations haven’t been met, and they’re tired of the rhetoric…it’s time to deliver.

Can law firm clients and prospects be turned around to think more positively about vendors? I think so. When legal providers wake up and realize that their primary competition is internal and not external, they’ve taken the first step to success. Ask the hard questions:

  • How can we meet expectations?
  • Are we delivering on our promises?
  • What can we do to improve?

Change of name, change of perception

If we change our perception of what we do from selling to partnering, we can start to change the perception of our clients and customers. The definition of partner – “a person who shares…”** is a much more appropriate definition of what we do or should be doing. If you’re a Business Partner, your clients see you as not just a seller but rather as a trusted adviser committed to help them succeed. Several legal associations, including ALA and ILTA have already adopted the name. so, from today forward, LTMG and all our properties will use Business Partner when we speak of providers of products and services to lawyers and law firms.

So, in answer to the question: “Vendor”- Can we change the negative connotation?  The answer is yes! Yes, we can. We at LTMG and Events.Legal are making a pledge to you and will be using Legal Business Partners in place of the word “Vendor” throughout our websites and communications. We are starting a hashtag campaign with #legalbusinesspartner to change the focus to a positive one.  We hope you will join us in this campaign and start using #legalbusinesspartner as well. Together we can change the connotation back to a positive one.

*"vendor" Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/vendor.
**”partner” Dictionary.com https://www.dictionary.com/browse/partner

Author: Cathy Kenton - Co-Founder, LTMG