Recently I was in Washington, D.C. to meet with an attorney at a prominent national firm. When I stepped off the elevator I felt as though I was in a pristine contemporary art museum.
I entered an enormous lobby that was probably about 5,000 square feet. The only thing occupying the space was a small receptionist’s desk and an interesting metal sculpture. Otherwise the space was open, empty and imposing.
In a city where real estate is at an absolute premium, this extravagant use of office space seemed indulgent. Beautiful, yes. Great for hosting parties and political events, of course. The space also clearly sent the message to clients that their lawyers’ hourly rates were partly subsidizing a cavernous art gallery.
Once upon a time, it seemed important for law firms to invest in prime office space with impressive art collections and chic decor. While I am not absolutely sure of the reason, I imagine it was to instill confidence in clients that their legal team was successful.
Perhaps there was also a subconscious attempt to further empower the firm’s professionals in the eyes of their trusting clients. After all, if your lawyer meets you in an exquisitely decorated conference room replete with an espresso machine, Perrier-stocked mini-fridge and a small bodega’s worth of snacks, swallowing a $500-$1000 an-hour rate is easier (especially if you wash it down with fresh-brewed espresso).
Over the past year there has been quite a buzz about the uncertain future of law firms. There are daily articles discussing the threat of artificial intelligence (AI) replacing human counsel and a great deal of blogs and seminars focused on the conundrum of business development.
The old way of “lawyering” is not keeping up with the new wave of legal consumers. Younger clients no longer want their advocates to preach from a well-appointed ivory tower.
They want value.
What constitutes value?
Solutions-oriented advice designed to allay concerns, delivered in a compassionate and thoughtful manner. The conveyance of this value requires the professional to be relatable. Gone are the days when people would pay premium fees to attorneys that over-intellectualize situations just to pad their own pockets.
This concept is not unique to law firms, however. These tenets hold true for anyone in the hourly/billable world. Accountants, consultants, advisers and engineers would all do well to consider this approach. If a professional is not sure to maintain their client’s consistent perception of value, their practice will be in peril.
Today’s professional services consumer wants someone different in their corner. They want an adviser they can trust to not only know their stuff, but someone who will ensure their clients’ ability to fully grasp-and apply-the information they provide.
To form a genuine connection to clients, professionals must first comprehend the value they bring to the table. They must be able to dissect their rate structure and explain every sliver of the fee; X% for education, Y% for years of experience, Z% for depth of the firm, etc.
If a firm has not taken the time to make sure that every member of their team, regardless of tenure, is able to confidently explain their pricing model to clients, the organization’s future is tenuous at best.
No amount of mahogany floors, high-value art collections, generous expense accounts or espresso machines will ever replace the new professional services consumer’s appetite for value.
What value do you provide?