Service: A Counterweight to Commoditization

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In recent years, the "Two C's"— convergence and commoditization — have become major issues for national and large regional law firms, as well as small-firm and solo practitioners. Convergence is the trend among clients to reduce their legal expenses. Lawyers need to counter the trend by offering exceptional service.


Large corporate clients reduce their legal expenses by paring down to a few dozen or less the hundreds of outside law firms that they previously used. The survivors of the parings are frequently expected to provide certain kinds of work with relatively steady volume, such as patent filings or employment litigation, at fixed rates over a certain period of time, turning those matters into the legal equivalent of a commodity. With commoditized services, lawyers focus on specific targets, such as settling cases for the lowest legal cost and settlement amount, where warranted.

Commoditization is also increasingly an issue for small firms and solos, too, particularly in areas such as wills, bankruptcy filings and divorces. Spend just a little time on the Internet and you'll see a whole host of these services that target individual consumers and are being offered by lawyers at low, fixed prices. There are even software packages claiming to make the purchasers their own lawyer in those practice areas.

I'm reminded of the H&R Block television commercial depicting a husband preparing the family tax return. He is stuck. The wife approaches him and suggests that he ask "the box" for help. You know, of course, the answer from the box: silence. Then a voice-over speaks, explaining that help from H&R Block is only a phone call away.

Essentially, low-price pitches meet with success because too many lawyers have done a poor job of addressing the value and benefits that they bring to the matter — the worth, as opposed to the cost, of the services provided.


When clients increasingly want to see the dynamic shift toward the commodity model, the momentum can be hard to resist, at least completely. So what type of options do lawyers have in response?

One way is to consider "productizing" your practice by providing a tangible product that opens the door to the intangible, value-added services that you want to offer. For example, an estate planning lawyer might combat do-it-yourself websites and software by establishing a password-protected section on his firm website that has authoritative forms and research prepared and evaluated by the attorney. For a flat fee, a client could access that material and draw from it at will, and if the client has a question or problem that the materials do not answer, there's the attorney's secret weapon: the availability of legal expertise. The lawyer is available to provide personalized counsel, perhaps at a special rate, that recognizes the relationship established through the website.

Another example might be a blog that, for a subscription fee, combines the lawyer's observations on breaking legal or regulatory issues with specialized content and research — again, with the option of asking specific questions outside of the access fee. There are numerous value-added offerings that you could create based on your practice area and target market — and that's just what many creative lawyers and firms are currently considering or actually doing.

When the client perceives the work you do as having high value, you'll be able to charge more, of course. The way to ensure that clients recognize your real value and expertise is to offer real service. Clients consult lawyers because they need help with problems that they cannot resolve on their own. But clients value what any person values in a potential hire — be it a plumber, doctor or other service provider: show up on time, do what you say you will do and finish what you start — and say please and thank you.

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