(Note—This is the sixth in a series of posts taken from my recent presentation to attorneys and legal professionals at the DRI conference in New York.)
As part of my ongoing discussion of the current landscape of legal marketing, I wrote about shifting the emphasis from institutional branding to individual branding in my previous post.
Today, I’m going to address perhaps the ultimate question for legal service providers: What is most important to the buyers of our services?
A survey by the BTI Consulting Group – the research group to which I have referred many times on this blog – describes 17 attributes of client service. Some of them are obvious – appropriate technical skills, anticipating the client’s needs, sufficient resources, and the like. But at the top of this list of 17 client service attributes are four that clients – whether the General Counsel of a Fortune 50 company or, presumably, the lead partner on a mass tort litigation defense – define as essential to creating “superior relationships” with providers:
• Value for the dollar.
• Client focus – In other words, a devotion to client service;
• Understanding the client’s business;
• A commitment to help.
Value doesn’t always mean the lowest price, although price is without question the dominant force here. As a partner at Womble Carlyle pointed out to me during some of the early Association of Corporate Counsel Value Discussions, “When a client asks for an Alternative Fee Arrangements, he never is hoping to pay more than he would under a traditional arrangement.”
If it is a zero sum game (and I’m not sure it is), the law firm is the loser, at least as long as we price externally on an alternative basis, but continue internally to measure performance based on billable hours. We have enjoyed, or endured, as the case may be more than two years of discussions under the general umbrella of the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Value Challenge. Over that period of time, it seems to me, virtually every imaginable alternative fee variety has been exposed to the world. All of us, I think, know them all by now. Many of us have offered some or all of them. Depending on which publication you read, they are being widely adopted…or widely dismissed. I don’t know where AFAs are going, but whether or not they become the predominant pricing model, they have been in law firms’ quiver for some time.
From my perspective, the Value Challenge discussion has evolved into a more fruitful area – that of “project management.” Under the banner of project management, we in private law firms are forcing ourselves to do what Richard Susskind contends that we must: rigorously examine how we practice law to identify areas that could be more efficiently and effectively handled via technology and in collaboration with the internal legal department, other law firms, and other providers…..even nonlawyer providers.
This value discussion has occupied countless thousands of pages and countless trillions of electrons in the digital world, and I will not attempt in this setting to summarize or even make sense of it all. What I would say is this. Value, while a lot about price, is also significantly about “fit.”
In his book the “Value-able Law Department,” Steve Lauer describes this notion, utilizing the phrase: “appropriate counsel.” “In some circumstances,” Lauer writes, “appropriate counsel might be the best lawyer you can find, cost be damned. In other situations, on other hand, appropriate counsel might mean the one who can achieve the best result feasible at the lowest cost. In other words, the selection of counsel should be based on a constellation of criteria that includes cost as well as pure quality of legal acumen. To put it slightly differently, the selection process should begin with a search for outside counsel who possess the various qualities that are relevant to the assignment in question.”
Next, we will examine the idea of legal services as products, and how outside law firms can capitalize on such a new model of packaging those services.