The answer depends on the client. If a client views legal services as nothing more than the stack of legal documents on the closing table then, yes, law is a commodity.
But what do those documents embody? They embody the client’s transaction — possibly a transaction the client is pouring their heart, soul and savings into. This begs the question: is the client’s transaction a commodity? Is that how the client views their project, their deal or their situation?
For the consumer, the tricky part of any service industry is that service providers will place the same value on your work as you do. If your greatest concern is cost rather than quality, the service provider will respond accordingly.
Unfortunately, potential clients may miss out on the greatest financial benefits of a lawyer when they focus solely on a lawyer’s fees. What are those? Let’s just take a couple of actual, recent examples from my own practice.
Who Ya Gonna Call?
Recently, one of our clients was opening a new retail location. The day before they were opening to the public, they ran into an issue with the ABC. We had not assisted the client with any aspects of their alcohol licensing; we had only negotiated their lease and formed their company. However, they called us for advice on how to solve their problem. If it was not solved that very day, their store would open without any beer or wine.
We quickly came up with a solution, drafted the needed documents to satisfy the ABC and the next day their opening was a success. If our client had called any other lawyer that day, the odds are they would have opened their first day with some empty coolers and shelves. Lawyers are typically not going to drop everything and rearrange their schedule to address an emergency for someone with whom they do not have an ongoing relationship.
When potential clients are shopping based solely on price, rather than experience and quality, they are not someone I would like to work with. I like to have a connection with my clients, as time and again I have seen it benefit everyone.
Relationships with attorneys can benefit clients beyond situations where they find themselves in a pinch.
I have practiced law for 15 years, so I know a number of people in various sectors of the economy. I have used these connections countless times to benefit my best clients. In one case, I connected a manufacturing client with raw material suppliers and lending sources that have given them a competitive edge in their industry.
In another case, I learned of a new law that was about to be enacted and had my client ready to take advantage of it as soon as it went into effect. Only 4 companies were positioned to take advantage of the law in its first year and my client was one of them.
If I did not have such a strong relationship with these clients, if they and I merely saw their legal needs as commodities, I never would have picked up the phone to alert them to opportunities I had found for them. In each case, I actually saved and/or made my clients more money in their business than they spent on my legal services.
Are You Merely Buying A Commodity?
Making sure you receive value for your legal fees is always important, just make sure you do not miss the portion of the value that comes from a real professional relationship. That is the greatest value of all.