Shine By Getting Smaller, But Don't Forget The Big Picture

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Big is not necessarily better. In fact, doing something special on a small scale is likely to bring big results.

Walmart is a good example. Of course, when you think of Walmart, you think of something big. But Walmart has another side, a smaller side — and that smaller side is paying off in big ways.

According to an article in the Washington Post in August by Rebecca Robbins, although "Walmart ascended to its place atop U.S. retail by focusing on big supercenters ...[,] today it is counting on something entirely different — growth in its small but surging small-scale grocery store and e-commerce businesses."

Lawyers, too, can find a way to shine in a smaller way and thus reap big rewards.

Indeed, the current world dynamic dictates that the specialist generally earns more money than does the generalist in fields as diverse as teaching, medicine, technology and the law.

For years, law students have been encouraged to develop a specialty practice area as part of their training. State bar associations increasingly offer specialized certifications in certain practice areas.

There are those who believe that no matter the field, one can succeed only through specialization. In this mentality, the generalist is absorbed — or out of business. Granted, specialists and their clients benefit in many ways from such focus, as Walmart has discovered. However, the benefits will never accrue without quality of service.

Clients expect all lawyers to be competent if they have state bar approval. A law degree or advanced certification in a particular field may be a good marketing tool, but from the client's perspective the real differentiator is the value received for the skill package that the lawyer offers, and that is not dependent on a specialization certificate.

A few years ago, an article in the American Bar Journal observed that clients increasingly are looking for the "strategic lawyer": the counselor, the type of lawyer who used to be the standard of the legal profession. The strategic lawyer must be able to show the client that the value of their attorney-client relationship is deeper than the forms that are getting filled out and the paperwork that's being shuttled to and from the courthouse. Value lies in the strategy, the analysis and the service that the lawyer provides.

By that definition, all lawyers — specialists and generalists — can structure what they do to encourage a high perception of value. The procedure should include the following:

  • Establish a law firm policy to return all client inquiries, whether phone call, email or text message, within two hours of receipt.

  • Know each client's concerns and understand that client's business, as well as the legal objectives.

  • Prepare clients for interactive events such as negotiation sessions, depositions and testimony so that they know what to expect, and incorporate a wide range of possibilities so that clients are not shocked at the process or the outcome.

  • Never make a promise that can't be kept, as reflected in the expectations of value and service that are defined by both parties.

  • Regularly ask clients for feedback about the services received, focusing on their satisfaction with the service rather than on the results achieved.

Becoming a specialist is often the key to standing out. However, if you can't provide quality of service, you won't shine — regardless of how intriguing your niche market is.

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