Me: What’s your USP?

Legal Services Vendor (after me explaining to a head of sales what USP means): You got 30 minutes?

Me: No. Let’s go with 30 seconds. That should cover it.

30 seconds is an ample amount of time for an elevator pitch on your uniqueness. That is, if you’ve ever really thought about it and rehearsed it. If you haven’t thought about what you are and, most importantly, why you’re different (read: better) than everyone else, you have no business representing your organization. And this may be the wrong industry for you going forward.

I’ve participated in countless investor pitches here in NYC. They’re a bitter-sweet experience in that hopeful startups seeking to hide their operational Achilles’ heel or lack of financial maturity can fall foul of seasoned investors who will ask the very questions they sought to avoid. The better strategy is to make your weakness into your greatest strength – not to ignore it. Burn the midnight oil and go on the offensive with answers – not run from the challenge.

Certain areas of legal services and legal technology services specifically are crowded, no doubt. All the more reason, you would think, to know your story cold.

I reacted with a measure of quiet amusement when asked if I had 30 minutes for an impromptu pitch by one of many legal services vendors at a recent gathering. By the head of sales. Really? A head of sales needs 30 minutes? If you can’t tell me how you’re different in the first 30 seconds, one of us is missing something – and it’s not me on this occasion.

If we’re right about the growth in this market and the increasing competitive forces that will descend upon it and rush through it – forcing pricing wars and consolidation – then some vendors will simply have to lift their game, or fail. The need to understand and communicate a leadership proposition and unique value for clients – it’s critical.

This early in the game you can get away with a lot – and many have for quite a while. But this phase is only temporary; this industry will get harder, snarlier and more (not less) competitive. So this is the bit where you work hard, cut it tighter and polish the pitch like hell – so when the pitch moment comes and the spotlight shines, you nail it.

There will be winners and losers in the emerging legal industry. To see some of the younger, agile players coming through is to know that the old guard has competition. The incumbents have alternatives. Those with most to gain also have less to lose – and they’re prepared to fight harder for client business.

Competition is harsh but invaluable. And there’s plenty of it ahead. Your USP? Your 30 seconds starts now.