An industry's burden of proof...

Too often I would hear people ask open forums for general and specific legal advice and stating very clearly, "I don't want to engage a lawyer." Wait, what? Why wouldn't you seek legal advice from a lawyer? There is no other profession that I can think of where people are more comfortable asking someone with ZERO experience for specialist advice.  It's worse than asking WebMD for a diagnosis.

I am a lawyer - trained, qualified and experienced.  And although I’m proud of my qualifications, my knowledge and my career, when people asked what I did, I never told them.  All I would say was that I “worked in corporate” and hoped that it sounded boring enough to stave off any further questions. Why?  Because I always copped a hard time for being a lawyer.  I have been called an ambulance chaser, a parasite, soulless and more!  All in response to identifying myself as a lawyer.  (For the record, I worked in corporate litigation - not an ambulance in sight.)

For the life of me, I couldn’t work out why there is such a deep seated apprehension to the industry.  So I just asked.  

Here’s what I put out to two Facebook Groups with collectively 65,500 members:

There *seems* to be a recurring theme in a few business groups that I am in where there is an apprehension around seeking legal advice from a lawyer. I know we are so empowered in this DIY age, and certainly when you are hustling, cost is a concern, but sometimes it seems to be a deep-seated inclination to “not get lawyers involved”.

Super curious as to why. Does anyone have any perspectives on this?

Holy Guacamole, hold the coriander! Everyone had an opinion, experience, stance about lawyers - and it wasn't good.  I have to be honest, I was a little shocked.  Ok, that’s not honest.  I was a LOT shocked.  Here’s what was said:

  • Cost

  • Quoting one price and billing another

  • Cost

  • Billing in 6 minute increments for something that only takes 1 minute

  • Cost

  • Getting a huge bill for something that seems basic

  • Cost

What’s the theme?  Cost?  No.  It’s actually value (perceived and actual) and trust. Here’s what I mean by that.  

Yes the comments all said “the hourly rates are too high” or “why do they charge for a block of 6 minutes, when they are just sending off a one paragraph reply?” or even “why should I pay thousands for something generic or that I could even do myself?”.  It is fair to say that they are all about cost, but the issue is actually value.

Clients are focussed on the cost and cannot see the value.  With a lot of posts saying “I don’t understand why I get charged for advice that would have taken 3 minutes to type out.”  Can you see the problem with that?  It might have taken 3 minutes to deliver the answer, but it probably took close to a decade to know the answer.  That’s the problem when services are delivered on costs not value.  

There were many comments about discrepancies between quoting and billing.  This is catastrophic to any working relationship in any industry.  Clients’ expectations must be managed and met - there’s not wiggle room there.

Now I’ve been out of private practice for some time now, so posing the question was just an interesting thing to do on my Thursday morning commute - I can’t really say I have a vested interest in the profession.  But I am still a profession service provider and in reality questions of value and trust are not just confined to the legal profession - no business can thrive without it.

So, not just those in the legal industry, but to anyone providing professional services:

The value that you bring to your client must exceed your cost.

You want to stop haggling costs with leads and clients?  Show them your value.  Don’t focus on the $550/hour fee, highlight that your franchising agreement facilitates a $25,000 transaction in favour of your client or that your supplier contract will protect them from refunds or indemnifications due to someone else’s error.  Don’t charge $55 for an email that says, “Yes, should be fine.” Charge $110 for an email that gives a response, but also explains the rationale, pitfalls of other alternative scenarios and equip your client with knowledge so that they may make an informed decision now and in the future.  

When a client has no choice but to see your value, your cost is marginal. Clients will not look for your value - it is up to you to show them.

Each client is individual and unique - you need to give a shit about that.

Never ever rinse and repeat. Now, I’m all for templates, pro formas and designed systems.  I appreciate the skill and the knowledge that is required to put any of those babies together.  But your client must trust you and they will not trust you, and consequently be confident in your skills, if you have not even bothered to get to know them and their business.

Listen.  With your ears, not your wallet.

If you are providing services for the sake of making money, reconsider your business.  When you listen to you client, understand their needs and goals, give them value, the profit comes.  If you chase the profit, it will be clear as day - you’ll have no trust and they will openly ask you, “what the f*ck am I paying you for?”.

Don't be afraid to ask a question that you know does not have a nice answer.

Life is not always rosy and you make mistakes, or even inherit them.  The biggest mistake of all is to not do something about it.  Failure is only failure if you accept it.  So be brave and ask you market, "why are you apprehensive about engaging me?".  Ask a client, "what could I have done better for you?".  And be prepared to hear the answer.

As for my buddies in the legal industry? You can change the perception. You are incredibly skilled and experienced, but your clients just aren’t seeing it.  Step away from the cost model and move to the value proposition. It will pay off.