Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

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Articles: Strategic Business Development Archives

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Become A "Valued" Adviser

Competitors to lawyers - accounting and consulting firms and others - have made inroads to traditional lawyer territory by recognizing and providing added value to the specific task needing to be done. They know the expected is not enough - unless it comes at a notably reduced cost. In most instances when clients complain about fees, their beef is not so much about absolute dollars or hourly rates, but rather what they perceive they are getting for the money they are paying.

For countless years, lawyers have convinced themselves, and assumed they had persuaded others, that simply being good at what they did had sufficient and easily recognizable value. (This assumption holds true for internal clients as well - for example associates with regard to their partner/clients.) Not so, even in good economic times.


Law firms and individual lawyers' must develop the habit of seeing themselves and their services as others see them. Despite their historical prominence in the community and business, attorneys in general increasingly are perceived as impediments to quick accomplishment of business goals and as a costly layer of expenses built into a cumbersome legal system. Consumers and business people hold lawyers in the legislatures and government bureaucracies responsible for passing more and complex regulations with which they must comply and that raise the costs of products and of doing business. A recent Harris poll indicated that lawyers are the professionals that have fallen the farthest in public esteem since 1977 (although business executives, bankers and accountants are ranked lower in prestige). Business people often complain that they are forced by the system to hire lawyers, whose role seems to be to tell them they can't do things rather than to find a viable and acceptable way to achieve the client's objectives.

Frequently these perceptions are unfair, but client perceptions are what count most. Lawyers can counteract this criticism if they first think creatively about their roles and cast themselves as facilitators and problem-solvers who add value to each matter they handle and each relationship they build. If value is added and communicated in each instance, lawyers will be a welcome part of the client team, will be more appreciated, and will find it easier to retain and expand business.


Begin by getting into the client's psyche and understanding why a client seeks an attorney's assistance. When a client comes to a lawyer, it is generally for one of three purposes:

  • To stop hurting - that is, to solve a problem that is causing financial, physical and/or mental pain.
  • To facilitate a transaction - to accomplish an objective overcoming a variety of obstacles.
  • To avoid financial loss to oneself, family or business currently or in the future. To protect a position, build financial security, conserve wealth.

Lawyers must see the services they render in those terms to understand the concept of value. Each of these situations is stressful. A client may actually be looking for a savior, a warrior, a friend, a therapist, a coach, an expediter - even a miracle-worker - although the client often may not be able to articulate that quest.

Each case or matter has one or more specific objectives. Meeting them creates value to the client; but remember, often the client will view the lawyer's role as a necessary evil unless there is some value added beyond the baseline expectations.

Clients calculate value in terms of return on their investment, the effect of purchased services on their strategy and business operations, and the personal effects on the decision-makers at all levels. In other words, they evaluate the extent to which the services and service deliverers relieve their pain and help make them more successful in their careers and/or personal lives. These are the "what's in it for me" (WIFM) factors that the service provider needs to identify in order to make the sale and have a satisfied client ultimately.


Value can be added in many ways including by:

  • Providing rare or unique expertise and skill; (to know if it is truly rare, the attorney must be very familiar with the marketplace and competitors' capabilities);
  • Providing peace of mind on an ongoing basis - supporting and looking out for the client's needs as the client focuses on business growth or wealth preservation;
  • Steering the client to preventive action and avoiding unsound or unreasonably risky courses (the attorney must be on hand upfront to help the client anticipate);
    Providing timely, prompt, priority service; always making the client feel like it is your top client, even if revenues are not among the highest;
  • Communicating frequently and in language clients understand so that they feel intelligent and informed about their situations; (no jargon, be an educator);
  • Providing unfailing integrity, stability, mature judgment and care to the client's business team or personal needs;
  • Providing services exclusively to that one client; (or particular services exclusively, or exclusively in the client's industry);
    More dramatically, producing a brilliant idea or insight to solve a problem (often this comes from extensive experience in the area of law or the client's industry);
  • Producing a satisfactory solution or result in less time or at a lower cost than the client expected;
  • Meeting the client's needs by doing no more than is needed, and charging no more than is necessary for the minimal or moderate approach. For example, advising the client how to proceed without a lawyer or that nothing needs to be done, simplifying the approach or providing a satisfactory, if not "perfect" solution or product;
  • Completeness, leaving no loose ends;
  • Acting on the promise that every effort will be made to satisfy the client;
  • Doing more than the client expected without raising the fee.

Review the above points frequently. Incorporate them into new business presentations and periodic conversations with clients. Make your own value-added checklist for each client situation. Constantly think about ways to add value in each communication and contact with a client. Not only will clients see their lawyers in a new light, but also they will be likely to tell others that their lawyer is a valuable part of their business and personal success.


© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2000

Published in the New York Law Journal 1999.