What’s the Deliverable?

Yesterday I introduced the idea of the phased delivery of productized legal services. I left you with my insistence that each phase of your workflow should have a deliverable. Specifically, a client-facing one. Today I’ll unpack that assertion.

A few bits of background:

(1) While people can perceive plenty of value from experiences, the experience of working with a lawyer is not high on anyone’s bucket list. That’s not to say that legal work isn’t valuable, just that most people don’t perceive tremendous value from the process of working with a lawyer.*

I’ve seen this be a major source of frustration for attorneys in their relationship with clients. “They have no idea how good a job I just did for them!” you might think. And you’re probably right. But that’s on you for not communicating your value well enough.

(2) Even with experience-oriented transactions, people’s perception of value will be more durable, i.e. longer lasting, if there is some tangible artifact of the experience. It is why we buy tchotchkes on vacation, and it is why meeting a favorite celebrity isn’t as meaningful an experience as meeting that celebrity AND getting a photo with them, or an autograph, or some other memento of the interaction.

(3) Little things can communicate big value, even if they are disposable. Bringing home a gift in a “Medium Brown Bag” or, better yet, a powder blue box, can have a big influence on your (or your significant other’s) perception of the value of what’s inside. Even little things that don’t have high inherent value can be incredibly meaningful to people. A bouquet of wildflowers can communicate “I’m thinking of you” every bit as well as a dozen roses in most circumstances. Sometimes better.

(4) In my professional opinion, one of the stupidest books in the canon of law practice management advice is How to Draft Bills Clients Rush to Pay (there are a lot of contenders). It made it to a 3rd edition, so the authors clearly understood their audience of lawyers, and they chose a click-baity title before click-bait was a thing. But the advice completely misses the point.

Who ever rushes to pay a bill because of what the bill says? I don’t know about you, but I pay my bills quickly when I already understand the benefit I’ve received from the work (assuming the number at the bottom isn’t shockingly high). I pay on time because I want to keep a vendor happy when I like them, or when they have given me a good experience. If I haven’t had a good experience before I open the envelope (or PDF file), no amount of post-facto justification in the bill itself is going to make me “rush” to pay it.

If your bill is the only time you’re creating a tangible manifestation of the value you’re delivering to your client, you’re seriously doing it wrong. You’ve already lost ’em. The client may pay it and stick with you because of other factors (switching costs in the middle of a legal matter are pretty high), but they won’t necessarily like it.

So what to do instead?

The easiest thing is when you do a thing that already has a deliverable, even a deliverable that isn’t necessarily client-centered, make sure your client gets a copy.

If you’re worried that they won’t understand what you’ve just given them, that’s ok: explain it to them. If you don’t have time to draft a long explanation, draft a short one. Or make a phone call. Or even just give them the option for a phone call. And for darn’s sakes don’t bill them for that call, or to draft the explanation—that defeats the point.

If you find yourself explaining the same thing to a lot of different clients, then create an FAQ that you send along with that kind of deliverable. Maybe hire someone on UpWork to make it pretty. Or not—could be a canned email is enough. Creating that thing may feel inefficient in the moment, but it is an investment in creating a system that better communicates your value to all of your clients going forward. It will be worth it.

What if the thing you just did doesn’t really have a deliverable? No problem: invent one. Just flat make something up. It’s OK; your client won’t know the difference because this is probably their first trip through this particular type of legal problem anyway.

The key is to make sure you are regularly giving your client something that they can look at, refer back to, maybe even print out, that creates a perceptible signal that you’re helping them meet their goals and objectives for whatever it is they hired you to handle.

It shouldn’t have a number at the bottom of it.

Once you know what the deliverable is for each stage of your process, you can build your workflows around creating those deliverables. More on that tomorrow.

* There are times when the experience of having a lawyer stand up and truly advocate for someone can be incredibly meaningful to that person. I don’t mean to discount that value, but that kind of advocacy is not what most lawyers do most of the time.

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