The New Normal

Toward Understanding Value: Clients Set the Standard

Posted Apr 11, 2011 2:11 PM CDT
By Patrick J. Lamb

Patrick Lamb

The term “value” has taken on special currency in the law in the last few years. Headline after headline reflects that clients are now demanding greater value. Most people view value in monetary terms, as in the idea of getting more with less. But that doesn’t always hold true, because getting something better for the same amount might be of greater value, at least to some. Because of our firm name, my colleagues and I are often asked to define or explain value. I won’t bore you with our answers, but I will share that I am always looking for explanations that seem to work for me. I found one I wanted to share.

In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek writes:

“Money is a perfectly legitimate measurement of goods sold or services rendered. But it is no calculation of value. Just because somebody makes a lot of money does not mean that he necessarily provides a lot of value. Likewise, just because somebody makes little money does not necessarily mean he provides only a little value. Simply by measuring the number of goods sold or the money brought in is no indication of value. Value is a feeling, not a calculation. It is perception. One could argue that a product with more bells and whistles that sells for less is the greater value. But by whose standard?”

In the service world, the standard must be the client’s. And while many clients do want more for less these days, that is not what everyone wants. Some want cost certainty, whether for a specific engagement or for handling a group of cases over an entire year. Some want decreased cycle time. Some want to avoid the involvement of senior executives in a lawsuit. Some want to defend the reputation of a product against a broadside attack. The list goes on, but the point should be clear. Clients can have a number of different and sometimes competing priorities.

I am reminded of some wisdom shared with me a few years ago by a successful in-house lawyer. “That which interests my boss fascinates me.” The key, he said, was finding out the boss’ interests. The lawyer who provides value is the one who finds out her client’s interests at any given moment or on any given matter, learns how to balance the competing interests, and provides the service and results needed at a cost the client has agreed is fair. Value is about flexibility, the ability and willingness to adjust to the client’s changing sense of need, sometimes changing on the fly. But most of all, it is about developing the relationship needed to create the feeling of value.

Patrick Lamb is a founding member of Valorem Law Group, a litigation firm representing business interests. Valorem helps clients solve their business disputes and coping with pressures to reduce legal spend using nontraditional approaches, including use of nonhourly fee structures, coordination with LPOs or contract lawyers, joint-venturing with other firms and implementation of project management tools to handle lawsuits or portfolios of litigation.

Pat is the author of the the recently published book Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market. He also blogs at In Search Of Perfect Client Service.

Editor’s note: The New Normal is an ongoing discussion between Paul Lippe, the CEO of Legal OnRamp, and Patrick Lamb, founding member of Valorem Law Group. Paul and Pat spend a lot of time thinking, writing and speaking about the changes occurring in the delivery of legal services. We hope you will join their discussions.

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