There is a popular story in business schools which goes something like this:
The new CEO of Black & Decker asked his board of directors what their business did. He held up a drill – “is this what we sell?” he asked. “Yes,” said the directors, nodding; “that’s one of ours; that’s what we sell”. “No,” said the CEO, showing them a board with a line of holes drilled into it. “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole. This is why the customer comes to us. This is what they want.”
It is a stark lesson in looking at products and services from the customer’s point of view and aligning your services to their needs. Yet it is a lesson that many businesses forget, and lawyers are among the worst. That can be even more of a problem in areas such as family law where the customer is often not exactly sure what it is that they actually need in the first place.
If you ask most lawyers what they sell they will say something like ‘legal advice’, or ‘expertise’, or ‘the benefit of their experience’. But let me tell you something – in over ten years practising as a specialist practitioner no one has ever offered to pay me for my advice out of a general interest in family law. Of course, they haven’t: nobody goes out and buys legal advice for its own sake, and yet many people come to a lawyer even though they have been able to look up the law for themselves. So what is it that family lawyers can provide that our clients think is worth spending a large amount of money on?
Legal commentator Jordan Furlong examined this in his 2013 article “What do lawyers sell?” He concluded that what lawyers sell is peace of mind. “Peace of mind,” he says, “is what that client gets in that blessed moment when he can say to himself, ‘It’s alright. I’ve talked to a lawyer, and she’s given me options, and she’s working on the matter, and she’ll take care of it. Someone is looking after it, or will help me through it. I can start to relax now’.”
Maybe that’s true in the commercial world. But I think in the fraught world of divorce and separation there are an awful lot more emotional drivers involved. And emotions, if left unchecked, can lead you to spend a lot more on your divorce than you really need to.
There is no doubting that some people want to use their lawyers, and the court process, for reasons that are emotional and driven out of fear or anger. Some seek revenge. Some are not ready to move on and use squabbling through lawyers as a way of stopping the relationship coming to an end. Others are looking for vindication – after all, what could be more satisfying than seeing in black and white, on solicitors’ headed paper, a letter setting out how you were right, and sensible and reasonable and how your ex is an awful person and entirely in the wrong?
Before you choose your lawyer and spend your hard-earned money have a long, hard think about what they can do for you that you are willing to spend this much money on. If it’s the fleeting satisfaction of an aggressive letter or the hope of humiliating your ex in court you would do well to spot that now and save yourself a fortune in legal fees because I can promise you now it will not be money well spent.
At Family Law Partners we always work to resolve family disputes constructively. We will help you work with family consultants and counsellors to identify when an approach will have long-term benefits for you and when a decision is being motivated by anger or fear; nipping the latter in the bud before they lead to unnecessary fights. Sadly, not all lawyers take the same approach.
So before instructing a family lawyer ask yourself, what is it that I want to buy? Experienced guidance to reach an amicable solution as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, or extra firepower to help you win the same old arguments you’ve been having for years? And then ask yourself – is that what this lawyer is selling?
Our expert family solicitors are recognised as experts in family law by Resolution, Chambers UK and Legal 500. The team includes collaborative lawyers, mediators and an arbitrator, please contact us to discuss your own individual circumstances.
This article was first published at Family Law Partners on 28 March 2019.