The Word of Gold: "Added value" means very different things to different clients. Have you asked yours?

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” (Warren Buffett)

In the late 1950s, Hollywood was on the hunt for bigger and better experiences to feed its insatiable audience. Without warning, like a giant Hammer Horror spider rising up from the bowels of hell, an idea was born. “Say! What if we made a load of smells and piped them into the auditorium, to match what’s happening on screen?” This stinking idea was met with a resounding  “Wow!” and before you could say, “Let’s do the show right here!”, Smell-O-Vision (I am not making this up) had been invented. Its progenitor was a Swiss, Hans Laube, whose name now languishes in the obscurity it so richly deserves. 

Smell-O-Vision produced a range of 30 smells, including sea spray, pipe tobacco and red wine. It made its debut and final curtain call simultaneously in the 1960 movie Scent of Mystery, in which the overwhelming stench was of turkey. The New York Times described it as a “stunt”, with an “artistic benefit of nil”. There were various technical problems, not least that most of the time smells reached the audience too early or too late for the action. Competing systems such as AromaRama did no better, despite including “the smell of a trapped tiger” in its rich and varied portfolio. Movies being so much more explicit today, it is probably best not to dwell on what smells would have had to be added in the quest for the “ultimate audience experience”.

All of which goes to show how difficult it is to come up with ideas for added value which actually do what they claim. Law firms have grappled with this forever. Too often the result is a menu of offerings staler than the smell of an elderly tiger trapped for a fortnight in a Stilton factory. Once we get past training, seminars and secondees, we tend to be left with suggestions that do not so much add to as pad out the average proposal.

Different things matter

Addressing added value creatively gives firms a precious opportunity to stand out. Some time ago, the Association of Corporate Counsel, the umbrella body for US in-house counsel, recognised how important this issue is for both sides and surveyed its members. The result, 51 Practical Ways for Law Firms to Add Value, should be required reading for all firms. 

In fact, the title betrays part of the difficulty. There is a great diversity of opinion. What one client values hugely may be useless to another. Suggestion 2 is “Conduct an end-of-matter review at the conclusion of a significant matter”, yet I recall a GC explaining to me that so far as she was concerned, this was a complete waste of time, on the basis that “If it’s gone well, what’s the point, and if it’s gone badly, they’ll never work for me again, so what’s the point?” The point is that value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and we should resist the temptation to draw any conclusions before we have had thoughtful conversations with each client.

The two best answers I have had to the question, “When it comes to added value, what matters most to you?” came from heads of legal at well known public companies.  

One said, very simply, “the personal relationship”.

The other took a little longer. Why, he asked, do the many firms on his panel hardly ever come to him with commercial opportunities for his business? For example, he could not recall the last time he had been given an introduction to another client or connection which might have benefited both of them. There was a time, he said, when lawyers acted almost like corporate financiers, seeing themselves as catalysts for deals, not just the drafters of dots and commas. There is a lot of truth in this. Lawyers consistently miss out on opportunities for new work and closer relationships because of a mindset that labels them only as specialist technicians. Today it is accountants, not lawyers, who are thought of as men and women of business, a title which lawyers once wore as a badge of pride. Time to shine the spotlight on it again? 


The Author
Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds, a multi-award-winning law firm which grew from a sole practice to become a UK leader in its sectors. He is now a consultant, non-exec and trusted adviser to leading firms nationwide and internationally. e:; t: 0044 7968 484232; w:; twitter: @thewordofgold
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