Red Bean Buns and Law

I was in my wife’s favourite Chinese bakery the other day searching for red bean buns. The décor is nothing special, but the baked goods are exceptionally well done and insanely fresh! It’s no wonder then that we’re willing to travel a little bit out of our way to go there. And judging by the line-ups, many others feel the same way.

There are other places we can go to in Chinatown for baked goods, but we choose this one because of the quality of their goods. And they can compete against other bakers on quality because none of the others have figured out how to increase their quality.

Eventually however, the other bakers will make their wares of the same quality, then my wife and I will be in a quandary. What would make us choose this bakery over the others when the quality of its competitors is comparable?

This’s the same question I ask lawyers to consider.

We’ve been trained since school that success in law will be based on quality.

Get the best marks and you’ll get the best job.

Work the hardest and be the smartest and clients will naturally flow to you.

But remember Goodman & Carr’s slogan, “Hard Working Law”? Working really hard didn’t work out so well for lawyers at that firm.

And it didn’t work out so well for lawyers at Heenan Blaikie either….

Like my favourite baker, too many law firms compete on quality alone and when faced with competitors of similar quality, we become lost and have no way to differentiate ourselves.

I’ve suggested for some time that there are far too many plain vanilla law firms in Canada – particularly in the so-called mid-tier. And this will only hasten their demise – look for at least one and perhaps two more Canadian law firms to fail over the next 18 – 24 months.

The obvious solution is to create a unique client experience that can only be obtained at your firm.

The client already assumes your quality, otherwise she wouldn’t be in your office in the first place. So you must do more to ensure that she purchases your products – make her file experience more convenient, more accessible and perhaps even more cost-effective.

Unlike my favourite baker, in a crowded, over-capacity legal marketplace with flat growth, we can no longer compete on the quality of our “red bean buns” and hope to have a sustainable business.


  1. Divination through red bean buns. (or Legal Divination through Red Bean Buns. That would set you apart from the legal competition. Innovation & Divination.)