This is the next post in my manifesto discussion on building a million dollar law practice. My last article discussed how attorneys err by not emulating successful lawyers. One of the biggest mistakes attorneys make is to say “I’m a better lawyer than that guy and he has more business” instead of saying “how can I be more like that guy.” This post is going to continue the discussion of building success by looking at possibly the biggest mistake made by those in the legal profession – understanding what it is that’s actually valuable about the services you provide to clients. Most attorneys make the mistake of thinking they deserve a certain amount of revenue and income due to the amount of time they put into cases, their level of education, their certifications, etc. The fact of the matter is that, at the end of the day, taking this type of approach will leave you looking like this:

Wallet with help sign

In contrast, those who purely see their worth as defined by the value they provide to their clients will look like this:

Man behind desk holding money

I’m assuming you would rather look like the latter and not the former. Let’s start by looking at the mistakes made by ol’ boy with the empty wallet and then we’ll look at the philosophy taken by the fine chap in the second photo.

Most attorneys, and I do mean most, feel they provide value to their clients. They justify this feeling that value has been provided by saying “I put twenty hours into that case” or “I worked all weekend getting ready for the trial.” There’s two big problems with this approach. First, if you’re working inefficiently (which the overwhelming majority of attorneys do) then you probably worked twenty hours to complete work which could have been accomplished in ten. The fact that inefficiency caused a waste of ten hours means that those wasted hours provided no extra value to the client and, therefore, form no basis for you “deserving” a successful law practice. Second, even if you obtain a favorable outcome, the client is going to feel frustrated and that you didn’t give it much effort if you didn’t return their phone calls and if they felt they were always chasing you around for updates. Put these two problems together and you see why many firms don’t achieve true success; they measure their value by how much raw time they put into a case rather than the actual amount of work completed and they fail to provide things (such as communication) that the client deems valuable. This results in unhappy clients who are less likely to pay their bill, less likely to leave a good online review, and less likely to refer someone in the future. These attorneys then say to themselves “that client doesn’t understand how hard I worked.” If you fall into this camp then changing your notion of what it means to “provide value” will go a long way towards improving your practice.

Other lawyers also make the mistake of thinking their firm should be bringing in a certain amount of revenue because they spent years going to law school and maybe spent some time getting an L.L.M. or some other type of legal certification. It’s logical to think “I have more education so I’m worth more.” Ask yourself, however, what value actually gets provided to a client due to all that extra education. The answer to the question of how that provides value to clients is simple – clients file bar complaints based on attorneys failing to stay in communication and not over the level of education an attorney has. All the education and certifications won’t do anything to help you build a referral base, get good reviews, etc. if you’re not providing the value the client is looking for. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re a “better lawyer” than someone else or that you should be bringing in a certain level of revenue due to your education or certifications.

Million dollar law firms, by contrast, recognize that clients see value in only two areas – the results obtained and the customer service experience provided. These attorneys will never justify themselves on the basis of how much time they spent on a case or other things which the client isn’t going to care about. If you strive to run a more efficient practice than that efficiency will lead to better results for your clients. Providing quality customer service, on top of that efficiency, will keep people happy and grow your practice exponentially. Want to know what happens when you turn a client, who would have been unhappy, into a satisfied customer? They refer a friend when that person needs services. Guess what happens when you provide value to that friend? They then become a referral source. Over time your referral base keeps growing and, before you know it, you’ve built a million dollar law firm. Getting there isn’t hard, it just takes a focus on efficiency and customer service.

The beauty of this idea is that efficiency and customer service can be obtained simultaneously. Looking for some tips? Try giving these articles a read:

I’ve written on why the legal profession is struggling. For reasons which are beyond the scope of this article, it is important to understand that those struggles are going to get worse for most attorneys. The firms that continue to struggle will keep defining value by how much time they put into cases, their education, etc. Those who take a new approach, however, will be able to build successful firms if they go about it correctly.

Why do you feel attorneys often define value in their own terms and not in terms defined by clients? Please chime in through the comment form below.