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October 10, 2005

Why Perfect Legal Work Alone Just Doesn't Matter....Or The Bill Gates-to-Steve Jobs Comeback Line of the 20th Century

My favorite comeback line ever comes not from W.C. Fields, Winston Churchill or Cicero but from Bill Gates -- in a fictionalized conversation between Steve Jobs and Gates in the 1999 TNT movie "The Pirates of Silicon Valley." If you didn't see it, there's a fair review of the movie in Salon, and you can always rent it.

It is 1984, and Jobs has just launched Macintosh. In a meeting with Gates, Jobs has realized that Microsoft's Windows software "borrowed" some of Jobs' Apple concepts and ideas. Jobs is screaming at Gates, who starts to walk away.

"We have better stuff!" screeches Jobs. Gates stops, spins around and faces Jobs. "You don't get it," he responds. "That doesn't matter."

Does this scene--whether or not it really happened--ring true when it comes to overall client service? My experience is an overwhelming “yes.” Quality products and quality services aren't enough.

We have a spectacularly hokey saying at my firm. Clients need to "be safe, feel safe". If clients don't "feel safe," they won't fully embrace and appreciate you or your firm. Without the comfort of feeling safe, it won't impress them at all that the last memo you sent them by you and your prized ex-Supreme Court clerk was dead-on, groundbreaking, brilliant. They won't care.

And they shouldn't care. Obviously, the quality of our actual legal products -- recommendations, advice, opinion letters, litigation results, settlement terms, etc. -- needs to be first-rate. And it's wonderful if you can be the best at anything. But you won't keep even the most sophisticated, respectful "we'll-leave-you-alone-and-let-you-do-your-magic" business client which uses outside legal talent every day very long unless the client (or its GC -- it doesn't matter) both appreciates your work and is "comfortable" with it and you. Comfort.

For starters on how to make clients both be and feel safe, see Harry Beckwith's Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing.

Posted by JD Hull at October 10, 2005 01:04 PM

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