Law Practice Management

In Brave New Post-Boom World, Corporate Clients Now Want Value

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Updated: The party obviously is over for a number of law firms recently flush with profits from formerly booming financial institutions, but a brave new world may await attorneys able and willing to adjust to the new regime.

In a word, it’s now all about value, writes Paul Lippe, the CEO of Legal OnRamp, in an American Lawyer article reprinted in New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

However, to provide the cost-effective services clients are seeking, lawyers also must listen to what they want, he notes.

“All the other elements of ‘strategy’ that so many firms have embraced over the last ten to 15 years—increase concentration on the financial services industry, raise prices, grow for growth’s sake, increase leverage by hiring more associates, make fewer partners, and de-equitize existing partners—have been about the firm and not about the clients,” he writes. “They made sense only in the context of a financial services-driven boom.”

He’s far from the only one making such points. On Friday, the Association of Corporate Counsel unveiled its ACC Value Challenge, writes Patrick Lamb on In Search of Perfect Client Service.

As ACC explains the issue on its own site, traditional law firm business models aren’t in accord with corporate clients’ need for “value-driven, high-quality legal services that deliver solutions for a reasonable cost and develop lawyers as counselors (not just content-providers), advocates (not just process-doers) and professional partners.”

Through its new program, ACC seeks to promote a national dialogue between corporate counsel, law firms and law schools about how best to “reconnect value to costs” and, more specifically, focus on solving client problems, reduce “bickering” about legal costs and increase the sense of pride and satisfaction that both inside and outside corporate counsel take in their work.

Selling legal skills to clients, based on the value of the services to be provided, isn’t easy for many attorneys, notes consultant Robert Potter in his 2003 book Winning in the Invisible Market: A Guide to Selling Professional Services in Turbulent Times.

Yet, at the point in the process when legal services are most easily sold–that is to say, before a potential client realizes legal services are needed and starts shopping around for counsel–“most of the professionals I work with initially find it difficult to articulate their service value,” he writes. “They can describe what they do, who they do it for and even why it works, but why is it valuable? Well, that’s a bit more challenging.”

An example from his own life shows how lawyers can win a client with value marketing:

Motivated by the death of a friend, Potter was ready to put his own estate plan in order and protect his family. But in a chance meeting with a lawyer soon after the friend’s death, the attorney focused on his own expertise and overwhelmed Potter with too much information, slowing down his initial impetus to hire a lawyer and get the matter resolved.

Then Potter happened to meet another attorney and asked her a question about irrevocable trusts. Instead of answering directly, she asked him questions, to figure out what he wanted to do, and listened to his answers. Then she explained, in simple terms, the process that could be followed to accomplish his desired estate plan.

“Two weeks later it was done,” he writes.

Related coverage:

Fulton County Daily Report: “Remembering When Being Corporate Counsel Wasn’t Cool”

Updated at 6:45 p.m. to include information from Robert Potter book.

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