The Firm: A strategic lawyer shows value to clients

Edward Poll, The Daily Record Newswire

Specialize or Die.
This is a catchy phrase used by those who believe that one can succeed in any field only if they specialize. The generalist, in this mentality, will die or be absorbed … or lose all their business. The real dynamic in this world is that the specialist generally earns more money than does the generalist. This is true in fields as diverse as teaching, medicine, technology and the law.

For years, law school students have been encouraged to develop a specialty practice area as part of their training.  State bar associations increasingly offer specialized certifications in certain practice areas.  Specialists and their clients do benefit in some ways from such focus, but this really is just a matter of degree.

Clients expect all lawyers to be competent if they have state bar approval to hang out their shingle and begin practice. A law degree or advanced certification in a particular field may be good marketing tools, but from the client’s perspective the real differentiator is the value received for the skill package that the lawyer offers, and this is not dependent on  a further specialization certificate.
This suggests the virtues to being a generalist in legal practice.

A few years ago an article in the American Bar Journal observed that the “strategic lawyer” is what clients increasingly are looking for, and this kind of lawyer is not easy to find. The strategic lawyer is the counselor, the type of lawyer who used to be the standard of the legal profession. The strategic lawyer must be able to show the client that the value of their attorney-client relationship goes further than simply the forms that are getting filled out. Value lies in the strategy, the analysis, the service that the lawyer provides.

By this definition, all lawyers, specialists and generalists, can structure what they do to consistently encourage a high client perception of value.  Basic elements of that can include:

• Establish a firm policy to return all client inquiries — whether phone call, email or text message — within two hours of receipt.

• Know each client’s concerns and understand their business as well as legal objectives.

• Prepare clients for interactive events such as negotiation sessions, depositions, and testimony so they know what to expect and know what might happen. Incorporate a wide range of possibilities so that clients are not shocked at the outcome.

• Never make promises that cannot be kept as reflected in the expectations of value and service that are defined by both parties.

• Regularly ask clients for feedback about the services received. This feedback should be focused on their satisfaction with the service provided, rather than on the results achieved.

The real focus should be client service. It addresses value and benefits — the worth, as opposed to the cost, of the legal service provided, recognizing that the vast majority of malpractice complaints against lawyers in every jurisdiction involve complaints over poor service, failure to return phone calls, inaccurate arithmetic on the billing statements rather than complaints about esoteric legal points. The generalist who provides service and value will be better able to survive in a changing marketplace of ideas than a specialist who does not.

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Edward Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC, is a law practice management thought leader and contributor to this publication. His website is at www.lawbiz.com.

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