Whatever Your Focus, Specialize in Value

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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.

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 school 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.

Specialists and their clients benefit in some way from such focus, but that’s really just a matter of degree. 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 goes further than simply 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 this definition, all lawyers, specialists and generalists, can structure what they do to consistently encourage a high client perception of value. Basic elements include:

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

  • knowing each client’s concerns and understanding that client’s business as well as legal objectives;

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

  • never making promises that cannot be kept, as reflected in the expectations of value and service that are defined by both parties; and

  • regularly asking clients for feedback about the services received. The feedback should be focused on their satisfaction with the service, rather than on the results achieved.

The real focus should be client service. It addresses value and benefits — the worth, as opposed to the cost, of the legal service provided, recognizing that the vast majority of malpractice complaints against attorneys in every jurisdiction involve complaints over poor service, failure to return phone calls, or inaccurate arithmetic on the billing statements, rather than complaints about esoteric legal points.

The generalist who provides value will be better able to survive in a changing marketplace of ideas than a specialist who does not.

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