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December 12, 2005

Rule Four: Deliver Legal Work That Change the Way Clients Think About Lawyers

Rule Four: Deliver Legal Work That Changes the Way Clients Think About Lawyers.

This rule, like Rule One, is not so intuitive. But it's the most challenging. The "under-promise but over-deliver" and "exceed customer expectations" notion of keeping good clients is a great idea. But I just don't think it works that well for lawyers. I think that clients, rightly or wrongly, and whether or not they are even aware of it, in fact have low expectations of lawyers in the first place. For two reasons:

A. Traditional Pervasive Distrust of Lawyers (General--Deserved & Undeserved)

There is a pervasive (let's face it, ancient) cynicism and suspicion about lawyers which even our most loyal and valued clients carry around with them. Some of it is unavoidable and not our fault. It's based on everything from literature, TV, movies and lawyer jokes to a genuine misunderstanding of what lawyers must do to perform well. It's deeply rooted in world culture.

B. Real Experiences-Based Distrust of Lawyers (Specific--Deserved)

But most of the distrust is our fault because either (1) our substantive professional services are merely "adequate" and/or delivered without passion or real caring--clients can sense that--or (2) we view clients almost as adversaries (they joke about us; we joke about them), which gets communicated to clients in every step of our work for them. See The First Post.

Let's not kid ourselves. We are talking about money here. Why try "to exceed client expectations" when the overall lawyer standard is perceived as low to mediocre? If your clients are all Fortune 500 stand-outs, and the GCs' seem to love you and your firm, is that because your service delivery is so good--or because other firms they use are so "bad" or lackluster on service? Why have a low standard, or one that merely makes you look incrementally more responsive and more on top of things than the boutique on the next floor up? Why not overhaul and re-create the whole game?

If you read the better writers on services, like Harry Beckwith in Selling The Invisible, you pick up on this simple idea: Rather than "under-promise/over-deliver", which is essentially job specific, why not change the way people think of lawyers generally and what they can expect from them generally? Get good clients--those clients you like and want--to keep coming back to you by communicating in all aspects of your work that you care deeply about your lawyering for them, you want to serve their interests on an ongoing basis and that it's a privilege to be their lawyer. Show them you fit no lawyer mold.

Oh, yeah. One catch--and the hardest part: it's got to be true.

Posted by JD Hull at December 12, 2005 09:06 AM

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