Tell me what you want, what you really, really want…

One evening last week, when I wasn’t lawyering or writing these pieces, I went to the opera. In fact I’d been given a couple of tickets by our daughter and went with Mrs CM. The production was the new Royal Opera House Don Giovanni by Mozart, and it was very good indeed. But we didn’t go to the ROH to see it – our daughter is just starting her career in the North and doesn’t have that sort of money. We went to a local cinema and sat in the red plush seats and watched a live streaming of that night’s performance. So we had a 20 minute journey, as good acoustics and better views than we would have had in London, and all for a fraction of the price. We did lose the ambience a bit, there were no G & Ts in the interval, Mrs CM wasn’t able to give her coronet an airing, and the red plush seats weren’t quite so plush , or indeed quite so red. But the saving in cost was remarkable and made up for the difference. I’d certainly go again.

It’s not only opera – there are live streamings of plays and musicals, and no doubt other things as well. Quite a change from touring performances by necessarily limited touring companies, or pre-recorded films, or sitting in the rain outside the ROH and watching the production on a big screen. Or sitting at home and watching it on the TV or on DVD. And all brought about by the fact that most films are distributed digitally these days, and so all the cables and hardware are in place, and somebody had a good idea.

Now I’m not certain this will be a raging success in the end. The glitz is an important part of the opera. But we all saw the performance for a fraction of the cost and virtually no travelling, and the cinema got an audience on a wet Thursday that it wouldn’t have had otherwise, and the ROH no doubt got its fee and a much bigger audience than it could fit into its building. So a win/win for the time being.

And it made me think. What else is there that our customers, or clients want, and would pay for,and which we don’t give them either because we don’t realise they want, or because we don’t think we can make any money by doing? Because everything changes, and the way to succeed is to be just a bit ahead of the crowds. The telephone was once new and unusual. No longer.

As this is a law-based blog I’ll concentrate on ideas for lawyers, but it’s a universal concept. And remember, the client doesn’t always know what he wants: as Henry Ford  said “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse”

  • Should you be local? Clients can drop in to see you easily, you know the local opponents and the court and professionals. You can get very well known in your little patch, and although you will have to remain fairly small this won’t necessarily matter.
  • Should you be centralised? You might never see your clients but does this matter, with Skype, email and so on? You can be in a cheap part of the country and work for clients in expensive areas, at lower cost. Agents or counsel can cover any meetings or hearings for you that you can’t handle electronically, and you can grow large and wide-ranging, allowing you to cover all fields of practice.
  • What about multi-disciplinary practices, with accountants, architects, engineers and insurers? Like the above but more so. And you can cover all of a client’s needs, not just the legal ones.
  • Should you be niche? Cover a small range of work but be a leader in the field – celebrity motoring, claims against dentists, intellectual property, work for Russians. High value, low volume, and the clients will come to you.
  • Should you be high-volume? If you have enough volume you can be cheap and still make a profit, and a lot of clients are driven solely by price nowadays.
  • What about selling packages? A kit to evict the tenants, tied in with 30 mins of telephone advice, for a fixed fee. Or various sorts of lease, or contract, or the clauses to make up a will, or terms of business. Pricing and protecting from reselling can be tricky, and packages usually sold via an active website.
  • Going further, what about complete unbundling of services? Instead of acting for a client in say a contractual dispute you sell a guide to court procedures, or a hour’s advice, or 10 letters (for the price of 8) to the other side, or draft a claim (like counsel have done for years), or sell more advice before a hearing, or sell advocacy services. Each item has its price and the client can mix and match as they like.
  • Or work with an insurer and have your services covered by the insurance premiums?
  • Or even work for an insurer, or another body such as the RAC or UNITE and provide services for their members?

These are just examples. They aren’t all appropriate for all sorts of work – a criminal defence package looks improbable – and each one has its own pros and cons. You can no doubt think of some of these, and this piece is to raise questions, not provide all the answers. But you do need to be asking the questions, because if you don’t you can easily be left behind. Life is looking challenging for the middle-sized middle-of-the-road solicitor, and they won’t all make it.

Of course, you also need to watch out in case the powers that be decide to move the goalposts, such as removing civil legal aid and now criminal legal aid, or changing the court system, because a lot of your calculations will need to be reworked, and your good little earner may become a basket case in no time. But that’s life.

A marketing client of mine sent me a message earlier today

There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.

So make sure you give him (or her) what he wants. Even if he doesn’t know he wants it yet. Or you may be toast.


Title from Wannabe by the Spice Girls


Author: Coventry Man

A perspective from a litigation lawyer in the Midlands. After many years in Coventry I am now with David Lee Solicitors in Kenilworth, helping people with all sorts of litigation, especially property and landlord & tenant problems.

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