professional services

Some thoughts on ‘value’

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One of the biggest challenges we face in any professional services organisation is both an understanding of, and an ability to communicate, the value of the service we provide.

To some, “value”…

“…is the difference between a prospective customer’s evaluation of the benefits and costs of one product when compared with others. Value may also be expressed as a straightforward relationship between perceived benefits and perceived costs: Value = Benefits / Cost.”

To others, “value”…

“…is like beauty; it’s in the eye of the beholder (the payer)…it’s not measured by internal costs or profit levels.”

To my mind though, one of the nicest pieces written about the challenges humans face in understanding the value they provide comes from the Japanese artist Mariya Suzuki, who wrote recently:

“I wasn’t very aware of the value of my work until a short while ago. If you asked me about it I would just have said “it’s just a drawing” but now I realise that to get to make that drawing I have invested many years and practice. It wasn’t until people told me not to give everything away for free.

Today, in my starting career as an illustrator, I try to value my work much more.”

Trying to “value my work much more” – getting a better understanding of the overall value my product or service brings to the equation – seems like a good starting point to me.

How well are we doing at exporting #Auslaw?

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Finally, some years after the Australian Government first announced and then consigned to the dustbin  its ‘Australia in the Asian Centurywhitepaper, a fair amount is being written around the issue of exporting Australian professional – read, ‘legal‘ – services, including:

While it is undoubtable that the export of Australian legal and professional services is a trending issue on an upward trajectory, it is still probably a little early to say (as the College of Law post does) that “Australia is now trending on a global scale” (vis-à-vis the export of our professional services) – although, to be fair, the export of Australian lawyers (to which the College of Law would have a particular interest), particularly to the UK and New York, has been ongoing since the early 1980s and continues to this day.

Moreover, given that the Australian International Disputes Centre (AIDC) was established way back in 2010 (with the assistance of the Australian Government and the Government of the State of New South Wales) and still lags behind both the Singapore International Arbitration Centre and the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, the export of #Auslaw has undoubtedly been a slow burn.

So while I for one applaud the latest chatter around an impetus to export #Auslaw, I hope that this time we are serious and take the time to have a robust conversation about whether or not we wish to seriously promote (and lobby) the export of #Auslaw overseas. And, assuming we decide we do wish to progress with the export of #Auslaw overseas, we put in place concrete national plans to move this initiative forward rather than taking the lacklustre state-based approach we have to date.

From the client’s perspective

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Overnight (Australian time) Bruce MacEwen, President of Adam Smith, Esq and a leading commentator on professional services, wrote an outstanding blog post – ‘The Client Seat‘.

The post outlines some of the personal experiences Bruce has recently encountered as part of his role as Chair of the Finance Committee of his local church, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church at West 99th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, who own a vacant corner lot abutting the rear of the sanctuary and are looking for ways to realize some value from the asset; and, specifically, as it relates to the process of interviews the church is going through to select and engage a law firm to assist them in this process.

I anticipate there being a lot of commentary written about Bruce’s post  – if there isn’t already. It raises a number of thought provoking issues of what it feels like to be sitting in the client’s seat as part of this process and some of the gems that lawyers and law firms come out with to try and impress a prospective client into appointing them to do the work – even where they may not be qualified to do the task at hand.

But what really grabbed my attention in the post was the following observation Bruce makes:

The other asymmetry is one of disclosure and, to be pointed about it, candor: The client needs to tell the firm as much as honestly possible about the engagement and what the client knows, while the lawyers’ instinct and practice is to guard information, hedge predictions, and avoid definitive statements. This is true even when the firm is posed direct questions about simple business arrangements and not ultimate outcomes, such as “Who will be working on my matter?”

This is such an on the money observation of the profession, but think about it for a second:

In an age where open candour and transparency around both your personal and your firm’s credentials will most likely win you and the firm the trust of clients and prospective clients, and thus a lot more work in the long run, why do lawyers still feel the need to be guarded and reluctant to give straight answers to straight questions?