Client Development

Being Brilliant is Over-Rated

Way back before the cell phone, we had a telephone in our reception area for clients to use. At the same time, my doctor had a sign in his reception area advising patients that the doctor’s phone was for his staff’s use and clients could use a payphone in the lobby. The difference? We lawyers had to market ourselves to find clients and then convince them to pay our bills. My doctor worked under a government health care system and did not have to worry about either of those things.

Since we  had to care about whether clients liked us,  we also paid our landlord so that we could offer free parking. It was not unusual for us to have two lawyers in a meeting with a combined hourly rate of $1,000. I would not say that clients were delighted to spend $2,000 for a two-hour meeting, but typically they felt that they were receiving value and the complaints were few and far between. But if they were not delighted at the cost of the meeting, they were absolutely joyous when I told them that we validated parking and that would save them $15.

It is all about perception of value. People generally do not perceive value in having a place to leave their car. Paying for parking is just an annoyance. I used to use the free parking as a selling point for my firm. Clients may not have been able to understand exactly why my legal advice was better than the advice that they would receive from some other lawyer, but they sure understood free parking.

Another thing that clients did not value were photocopies at thirty cents a page. They did not think that it was reasonable, and I had to agree with them. I tried to convince my partners that we should raise our hourly rates by $1 and offer free photocopies. I figured that clients would not notice the extra dollar, we would come out at least even, and I would be able to market our firm as the only business law firm in Ontario that did not charge for photocopies. Alas, innovation was only welcome if it did not mean doing things differently from other law firms, so I could not sell the concept. (Yes, I know that what I just said makes no sense, but neither did our thinking about innovation.)

When I was first told, by a marketing expert, that clients choose their law firms based on things that make them feel valued, like being greeted warmly by our receptionist, the offer of coffee and snacks, having their parking validated, the lawyer being on time for meetings and responding to emails quickly, and not being nickeled-and-dimed, I was certain that the expert was very, very wrong. Surely clients understood that lawyers and legal advice range from awful to fantastic, and that it was my brilliant mind which would determine whether they wanted to deal with me.

But sadly, I was wrong. Very, very wrong. The truth is that, when it comes to winning and retaining clients, making clients feel valued is just as important, if not more so, as how brilliant a lawyer you are.

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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