Quality for the Price of Quantity

There’s a strange dichotomy afoot these days.  One side of us wants personal connections and caring, thoughtful, comprehensive, holistic service (as in, how can you help me create an estate plan to protect my family?) while the other side of us wants fast and cheap (how much for a simple will?).  We are at once longing for the face-to-face, interpersonal relationship that goes beneath the surface, while simultaneously starved for sleep, relaxation, and time spent really being present with and enjoying our families.

[Update: a friend whose opinion I value greatly made a great point to me offline- some people aren’t necessarily looking for a connection with a lawyer to fully advise them personally.  Some people don’t see why that should be important.  They see all of what I’m doing (helping people add to, protect, and move their families through legal services related to adoption, estate planning, and residential real estate) as purely transactional matters.  It’s not personal, it’s business.  I understand, as that’s all I expected or thought I wanted when I hired other lawyers in the past to help me and my family with the same.  What I’ve come to learn, however, is what that sort of transaction lacks and more importantly what that leaves me and my family lacking.  But we don’t know what we don’t know and can’t miss what we’ve never had, so I understand it.  And that’s one of the first things about which I try to help educate my clients when we meet.]

So we are increasingly demanding convenience for ourselves and our own families, but perhaps increasingly less forgiving than we should be of our service-providers needs for the same.  We have been raised on fast food, fast service, and fast responses.  As (one of my personal favorite ever comedians) Louis CK notes, we get positively indignant if a website takes more than a few seconds to load.    

In short:  We want quality for the price of quantity. 

The trouble is, as with most things in life as I’ve come to learn, we cannot have it all all at once.  As much as I’d love to, I simply cannot provide quality at the price of quantity or I will be out of business very fast.  So I am exploring additional ways to be of service to prospective clients that are convenient, affordable, and accessible to them to help them accomplish really important legal goals in a timely and thorough way, while also being more than an automated answering service and document-production factory open for business 24/7.

So what does this mean for my clients?  3 things to start:

1.  TEAMWORK.  I really do want to talk with you, but I really cannot answer my own calls or I will do nothing else during my day but react in various directions.  I started out in practice answering my own phone.  For me, it was not only inefficient, but also less than fully professional with the sounds of my baby or older children perhaps piercing the calm.  Yes, I am an attorney-mama dancing the crazy tango that is running and working in a solo law practice while caring for my baby at home and my preschooler and pre-kindergartener around their school hours.  (Which is precisely why most of my clients can relate to and want to work with me.  I’m right there with them!)  The fact is that responding to multiple  interruptions daily takes my focus off the task at hand (which could be detailed work for another client) and often slows getting back to callers with proper answers.  If I know what your question is, I can pull out your file, review it, and we can talk when you have my full attention for a thorough and thoughtful reply.  But I also don’t want to leave you hanging and nobody likes playing phone tag, which is why I realized fast that it takes a village and put together a team (i.e. my fabulous Client Liaison, Astrid, and my wonderful Funding Coordinator, Bari) and we work very well together.  Between scheduling calls with or emailing me or calling or emailing my team  we should be able to respond to any quick questions you have in a very timely manner.  In fact, my clients are often pleasantly surprised at the quick responses they receive from all of us.

2.  QUALITY OVER QUANTITY.   I cannot meet with and provide excellent, personalized service to a high volume of clients going back to back with meetings all day and also take the time to thoughtfully craft uniquely personalized estate plans and draft individualized language into the documents.  And because I actually enjoy meeting and getting to know my clients and look forward to developing long term professional relationships so that I can be their go-to lawyer for their entire lifetimes, I choose quality over quantity.

[Update: A friend asked, in the spirit of constructive criticism for which I am very grateful, “Why should clients care whether you get to know them?” and “Why do clients care about having a go-to lawyer for life?”  Clearly I didn’t explain all this well at all.  You see, when I get to know my clients it helps me understand where their priorities are, what is important to them, what they feel passionately about in life, and knowing that helps me make legal recommendations to them to try to help them accomplish those goals.  And once I know them, who they are, what makes them tick, etc., when something comes up in their lifetimes for which they need legal advice, as something always will, they will know they can just call me.  They don’t have to first worry about whether they need a lawyer and if so, where to find the right one and what it’s going to be like interacting with her.  Instead, they know they can just call me, their personal consigliere if you will, and I will listen and advise them with a good understanding of their circumstances.  So to serve as consigliere to my clients…]

I have a limited number of appointment times available for new clients so I can also properly tend to my existing clients’ plans, manage my practice, care for my baby, and stop working from time to time to be with my older children and husband.   [And I make NO apologies for these realities and, the feminist in me refuses to conceal those personal pieces of the puzzle even if it’s unpopular or makes me too real and not sufficiently marketable.  The personal is political and vice versa.]  That means my appointments tend to book out 4-6 weeks in advance, though I do make every effort to accommodate clients, offering night and weekend meetings outside of “normal working hours” as necessary.  

So what do you think?  In addition to the night and weekend hours I offer, should I also try to accommodate my clients’ scheduling needs by offering web-based conferencing instead of face-to face meetings?  My clients definitely appreciate not having to take time off from work to meet and it works out well for them to meet at night or on the weekend, but would a web-conference be even more convenient?  Or would we lose too much in terms of the interpersonal interaction?  Will I be able to read my clients’ facial expressions and detect any hesitancy or discomfort when we’re talking about different difficult topics and decisions?  What if one spouse is not fully on board and is looking at the other funny; isn’t it my obligation as an attorney involved in a dual representation with a possible conflict of interest (e.g. whom to name as guardian of their children) to stay on top of that?  Will clients think it’s somehow easier and should therefore be cheaper to “meet” online than in person?  Which leads me to my next point…

3.  AFFORDABLE, NOT CHEAP.  Big box stores are able to offer mad discounts based on the sheer quantities of product they sell and the volume of customers that shop there.  I am not a big box store.  I am also delivering a much better overall experience and producing a higher quality “product.”  Unfortunately, I recognize by now that many people will never get past wanting to compare the price of apples to pineapples.  But my flat fees are right out there in the open from the beginning so there are no surprises.  Once I’ve reviewed my clients’ information and discussed their planning goals, we are able to identify together and agree to the appropriate flat fee to accomplish their goals.  I have been known to talk clients down when they are initially inclined to do more planning than I believe necessary for them at that time.  That’s because I have no interest in gouging my clients; I am interested in developing long term friendly, professional relationships with them and price gouging is not conducive to that!  I am neither the most expensive nor least expensive attorney around, but if my fees are an economic challenge for my clients, I do my best to make it as affordable as possible by offering a variety of payment options. 

The bottom line is- cheap breaks, and I am in this to build things meant to last.  That’s why I keep hearing the same song on a loop in my head today.  To my regular readers it should be no surprise that it’s by The Grateful Dead, “Built to Last”:

There are times when I can help you out,
And times when you must fall.
There are times when you must live in doubt
And I can’t help at all.

Three blue stars rise on the hill
Say no more now just be still
All these trials soon be past
Look for something built to last

[ ]
There are times when you offend me
And I do the same to you
If we can’t or won’t forget it
I guess we could be through.
[ ]
Show me something built to last and something built to try.

I’ll be very grateful for your feedback and suggestions (to which I remain open) in the comments section below.  Thank you!

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About Danielle G. Van Ess

Danielle G. Van Ess is a Massachusetts (born and raised), experienced estate planning and small business attorney who helps her clients protect and preserve what matters most to them. To learn more, please visit: dgvelaw.com or call: 781-740-0848

4 thoughts on “Quality for the Price of Quantity

  1. Danielle,

    Very poignant post. Great to see that you've drawn a line in the sand on how you want to provide your service. Embracing the caring person that you are and using that to benefit your clients is a great decision. And I'm sure your clients appreciate it, which ultimately leads to more folks sent your way.

    Mike

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  2. I agree wholehearted with quality over quantity and ESPECIALLY affordable not cheap. I've struggled with the issue of affordability myself & you are definitely on the right track. I like the idea of web conferencing (to an extent). You are right that sometimes the face to face interaction provides additional information that the words themselves don't. Maybe use conferencing as a last resort when in person meetings just won't work.

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