6. November 2019

Lawyers as bespoke tailors

The third station on our foray through the most important issues surrounding “client focus” in a law firm is bespoke tailoring. This is about developing solutions for clients.

Let me make it clear from the start that “answering a legal question” is something completely different from “solving a problem”. In my lecture for the Master’s students, I always pause for effect after this sentence. If you let the two terms reverberate a bit, you can see the difference at once. This is what it’s like: our clients do not really expect us lawyers to answer a legal question, they expect us to solve a very concrete problem.

If you agree with me on this point, then it is also clear that our client-related activities do not exhaust themselves in the provision of our core service. A solution for our clients also involves being available, reacting to client enquiries in a timely and reliable manner, working expeditiously, providing regular, prompt and comprehensible information about developments in our mandate work, and listening carefully when clients articulate their demands regarding the solution. It is also crucial that clients understand our advice. Therefore we have to speak our clients’ language. Only in this way are they able to integrate our advice into the context with which they are familiar. This means: no technical legal terms, no half-page formulations without full stops and commas, no “Latin tags”, always a summary at the beginning or the end of a document, and when there are doubts regarding the presentation of complex interdependencies, using a graph rather than a lengthy text.

However, a solution is not only well-rounded when the packaging is right. In many cases, service components are required which are outside our legal core competence. In the case of complex transactions, for example, professional project management may be of vital importance for the client to be satisfied. If there are several options for the solution of a problem, a comparison of scenarios with legal and other criteria in a cost-benefit analysis may be helpful. Sometimes, assistance is required to cope with interfaces between different parts of the solution (law, management, technology, etc.). Occasionally, translation or interpretation services are required, and sometimes further, non-legal service providers have to be recommended.

Executive School Programmes:
Law & Management

Management for the Legal Profession

Business administration skills for lawyers subsequent to the EMBA

Only when all these elements have been usefully correlated and come together as a whole will clients receive the solutions they expect. Now the question remains: is it worth it for us lawyers to go the extra mile?

Isn’t it just! In our interviews which we conduct in the context of studies with purchasers of legal services, we regularly notice something that may be astonishing at first sight: If clients “merely” receive answers to legal questions, they speak of “costs” in connection with legal services. If, however, they receive comprehensive solutions to urgent problems, they suddenly refer to “prices”. Let these two terms reverberate for a while, too. Can you hear the difference?


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About the author
Prof. Dr. Leo Staub Academic Director of the Executive School of Management, Technology & Law at the University of St.Gallen until May 2020 and Professor Emeritus of Private and Business Law at the University of St. Gallen.