In my new favorite short story book, One More Thing: Stories And Other Stories, B.J Novack tells the story of The Rematch between the tortoise and the hare. It’s a great vignette, and in the retelling of the story, the hare actually wins.
The hare wins because he realized that he had been arrogant about his talent in the first race. He took it for granted and showed off by taking naps during the race.
This time the hare respects his gifts and prepares to do his best. He demonstrates and communicates his value – his talent, work ethic, and determination – to his community. And as a result, he confirms what everyone already knows, the hare is supposed to win.
This story got me thinking a lot about lawyers and value especially after reading this SPU post. As lawyers, we are supposed to win too. We work hard and handle the issues that no one else wants to deal with. Despite this, we are losing the race considering the number of lawyers that are unemployed, underpaid, or unhappy.
I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that most of us are terrible at communicating our value. It’s not something we’re taught to do in law school, and I think we shy away from it because it feels a bit like tooting your own horn.
Instead, we rely on the reputation of our profession. We are lawyers. We know stuff. We have the degrees to prove it. So we hang out a shingle that says “Attorney-At-Law,” and think that says it all.
The problem with this thinking is that it’s a bit arrogant. Today’s clients are much more sophisticated than we assume. They know stuff too and believe they can solve their legal problems with the help of Google and Legal Zoom. Why should they pay a lawyer $1000 for a contract when they can buy a template for $100?
I was confronted with this issue recently. A friend and business owner asked me why lawyers were charging so much when there are companies doing legal work for much less. Instead of hitting him with the standard reasons like we are detail-oriented, analytical, excellent researchers, have actual litigation skills, etc. (all very true by the way), I thought about it a little more and explained this:
First and foremost, lawyers cut through all the fluff and find the real issue. I know this sounds simple, but it’s certainly not easy. How many times has someone called you about a legal concern, and they end up telling you this long, 60-minute diatribe about everything including the kitchen sink. It ends with the person exhausted and perhaps, in tears. You ask a few pointed questions and, in 60 seconds or less, diagnose the problem in one simple sentence like, “looks like you have a potential negligence claim.”
The ability to identify the actual problem saves time, money, and adds immeasurable value. It’s similar to a visiting a doctor. A client can go in and explain the symptoms. She may even have done a little research online, but it’s the doctor’s diagnose that puts her on the road to a cure and recovery. A lawyer’s legal diagnosis is just like that, and it’s worth its weight in gold.
The second reason we can charge a premium is our ability to account for variables. As we know, every situation is a little different from the next, and what may be important for one client is unnecessary for another. Templates from the Internet can’t account for those differences. And they certainly don’t know how to respond to a judge when she asks a challenging question. Our rigorous legal training gives us the ability to call upon sound legal reasoning at any time. Therefore, we can bend and shape our arguments, contracts, letters, strategies, phone conversations, whatever, to meet the demands of that moment and that client. And that’s certainly worth the premium fee.
So the next time someone questions your value as a lawyer, remember this, “slow and steady wins the race, till truth and talent claim their place” – B.J. Novack.
The truth is that we, as lawyers, add immeasurable value to any situation, and like the hare, we are meant to win. We just have to look up from our work long enough to communicate that value and stop taking our talents for granted.
What are you thoughts on our value as lawyers? How can we go about communicating that value to the clients of today? Let’s chat in the comments below.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.