“What am I paying you for?” Considering Value in Legal Services

Is a “product” of a legal service good value for money?

I think people sometimes forget what they are paying for when they engage a solicitor. I’m willing to bet you have faced similar reactions to these at some point:

“£200 for a piece of paper?”

“You’re charging me for a phone call? I could have done that”

“Now you’ve done my partner’s Will, we’ll just pay for that and I’ll copy it”

Ok, maybe you haven’t faced that last one, but I certainly have!

I don’t mean any disrespect to clients for these reactions. At first glance they are understandable, especially in these financially fraught times. We all want to be sure we get value for money whenever shelling out our hard-earned cash.

However, I strongly believe that I, and a great many other solicitors, provide value in the ‘products’ that we sell. The reactions above are just based upon fundamental misunderstandings of where this value comes from. Unfortunately, this can cause frustration for practitioners and clients alike.

So, for the benefit of all concerned, I think it is important to consider: just what are we being paid for? And, by contrast, what do some people think they are paying us for?

“£200 for a piece of paper?”

There are all sorts of reasons why a client might feel they are not getting value for money. However, some misunderstandings practically guarantee that a client will feel short-changed.

One such misunderstanding is a fixation on the tangible; a sense that what they have paid for is what they can hold in their hands. For most legal services, all a client will receive is a piece of paper or two, so – in those terms – it doesn’t exactly sound like a bargain.

You might argue that, as legal practitioners, we provide services not goods. But so does a builder and, when they have finished, they will be able to point to the conservatory they have just built as something solid arising from the client’s expenditure. Legal documents, even if they totalled an equivalent price, would look weak by comparison.

“You’re charging me for a phone call? I could have done that”

Are products of building services more easy to appreciate than lawyer’s services?

A good deal of the practical work carried out by a solicitor can also appear straightforward – sending letters, completing forms, making phone calls etc. Obviously, describing the work in these glib terms hides the complexity that may well be involved. But that is precisely the point.

On the face of it, these tasks sound like something almost anyone could do. Contrast this again with the builder; his/her practical skill in constructing the conservatory can be easily recognised as a major part of the service he/she provides.

“The only person winning here is you”

Getting value for your money can be difficult to appreciate when you feel forced into spending it because of a law or a legal action initiated by someone else.

The law is an integral and ubiquitous part of modern society – exerting real influence on our daily lives. It’s like gravity: you can’t grab hold of it, but things would be a lot different if it wasn’t there. For example: we don’t take items from a shop without paying for them; we don’t attack someone for pushing in front of us in a queue; and we don’t just wander into a stranger’s newly-built conservatory without permission.  We have no right to.

Some legal services are seen by clients as incomprehensible and lacking in utility

Obviously, unlike gravity, the law can be broken. A shoplifter can steal something but he can’t float into the sky to escape! Nonetheless, intangible legal rights do have power – from society, morality, tradition, and culture. If you want to remain within the boundaries of those ideals, the law cannot be ignored.

Clearly then, ensuring compliance with the law is a vital part of life. And, beyond the basics, expert help is needed to achieve this. However, I think this ‘necessity’ can be something of a double-edged sword when it comes to value. Yes it makes legal services essential, but it can also foster a sense of coercion – a belief that circumstances and the law have conspired to separate you from your money.

In Part 2 of this post I look at how can we deal with these perceptions by clients regarding the lack of value in our services, and how we can improve our client’s appreciation of what we do, and why its worth the price paid.

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RachelRoche

Rachel Roche

Rachel is a Solicitor and the Managing Director at Roche Legal, a boutique private client practice based in the historic City of York. T: 01904 866 139 E: rachel@rochelegal.co.uk W: www.rochelegal.co.uk

One thought on ““What am I paying you for?” Considering Value in Legal Services

  • May 14, 2017 at 8:52 pm
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    Excellent article Rachel. May be worth distributing to a few national newspapers who constantly seek to de-value solicitors services/products.

    Reply

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