James E. Brill 2015-02-25 18:54:11
Packaging Your Product Stand out by presenting your services appropriately and showing you care. Yesterday I was visiting with a client at his place of business and saw a brightly wrapped ream of paper. Shiny and colorful, it instantly conveyed the impression that it was something special. I asked if it was archival paper and was told that it was ordinary paper, wrapped up to look special and costing no more than the paper we usually bought. There is a lesson here and it relates to law practice. A number of years ago, the popular book Dress For Success was all the rage. Shortly after its publication, it seemed like everyone—especially lawyers—bought and wore the same traditional styles and colors. This was the look of the day. My, how things have changed. Tailored suits are no longer the indicia of success. With our current informal “dress code,” it is hard to pick out the “big name” lawyers from all of the members of the general populace when everyone is in faded blue jeans. About the same time that the book was released, new buildings were being developed and promised that we would escape from drab offices into the luxury of glass-clad facades with fancy lobbies, floor-to-ceiling windows, and spectacular views. Lawyers who moved to these buildings were instantly perceived to be more successful than those left behind. Their new offices were their new packaging. A contemporary of mine opted, along with several others, to leave the comforts of the firm that had recruited him. He was in charge of designing and outfitting the office for his new firm and when the decorator asked him what he envisioned, he responded without hesitation, “I want it to look like old money.” At one time, if you wanted your office to look like old money, you needed a large library that was visible to your clients. When I started my career, older lawyers advised me to “invest in your library and when you retire, it will be worth a lot of money.” Packaging a traditional office for law practice today means clean lines, modern furniture, smaller but standard-size offices, several glassed-in conference rooms, and lots of electronic gadgetry. Your library now is small or non-existent. Your remaining law books are either decorative or they are candidates for the next paper drive. It’s all about creating and packaging an inviting atmosphere that projects the image of being up-to-date, efficient, and ready for action. Even though a great lawyer could operate with just a card table, a couple of folding chairs, and a hand-held digital wizard, no amount of pretty packaging at the front door could ever convince a client that this was a competent lawyer, much less a great one. And then, there are the non-conventional lawyers who are so technically proficient that they are successful at practicing from their offices without walls. Being able to practice from anywhere provides greater flexibility for the lifestyles they seek. More traditional lawyers like me have trouble imagining how this will work, much less how it will be packaged. Certainly there will be more of this in the future. Well, if lawyers want to dress casually and not be tied to an office, how will clients distinguish one lawyer from another? Before I give you my answer, let me tell you a quick story. One day I was having lunch with my banker. He reminded me that every one of his dollar bills looked exactly like the same dollar bills offered by his competitors and that he had to find another way to distinguish, showcase, and package what he had to offer. His answer was, and my answer is, service. The trick will be to package service. How long has it been since you went to a client’s office for a meeting, or for that matter, just for a non-billable social call? How long since you dialed up your client just to say “hello”? Or even a friend? How often do you just sit and visit with your client after the legal stuff is out of the way? In my opinion, these small touches are the festive paper and bright ribbons that should be our packaging today and surely will be the packaging of the future for waves of successful lawyers. This is the packaging that will have clients picking you and me instead. The author of Megatrends referred to this as “high tech” and “high touch.” That high touch time will distinguish you and your packaging from just about all other lawyers. If you and I will spend the time, clients will remember how we made them feel long after they have forgotten the brilliance of what we did. I try to quote fixed fees for estate planning services, and we have a fairly efficient system for document preparation. This leaves more time to spend with my clients to explain what we have done and why. Last week, a client told me that of all the occasions she had sought legal services, this was the only instance any of her lawyers had even attempted to make sure she understood what she had done. I still do not know how to package this approach, but whatever I’m doing, it seems to work. As you develop your own style of packaging your services, please remember that clients do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. JAMES E. BRILL is a 1957 University of Texas School of Law graduate and a solo practitioner from Houston whose practice emphasizes probate, estate planning, and real estate. He has been the principal author of every edition of Texas Probate System and is a recipient of the Presidents’ Award from the State Bar of Texas.
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