Money, Practice Pointers, Small Law Firms

The Practice: Your Competition, Isn’t — Part One

A plumber once told me, “There’s price, quality, and service — I can only give two. Pick which ones you want.”

In the service business there are those that focus on beating the competition the easy way — price. Quality and service are often assumed by unknowing clients who believe that a $500 lawyer is going to offer the quality and service of the $5,000 lawyer (sometimes that’s true). You find out your “competition” quoted a flat fee of $10,000 for the representation, so you’ll do it for $7,500.00. You’ve determined the client is only hiring on price, and you’re good at price. You would never think to tell the client that your fee is $15,000.00. You don’t feel confident in your quality or service, nor that the client cares. You’re just trying to compete at the lowest common denominator.

Focusing on the competition is a waste of time. I see it over and over again. A group of lawyers start a niche and there is a standard fee no matter who you hire. Then some young broke stud jumps in and charges $20 less. A few years later, everyone is charging 60 percent less. No one is making money, except those that aren’t focused on the competition….

Focusing on the competition is great, if you’re Burger King or McDonalds. They blow their brains out trying to outdo the other – not so much on the food quality, but on price, toy giveaways, the better playground, the unique sandwich. You’re going to these places (and on a personal note I hope you never eat any of this crap) for a quick, cheap meal. If you wanted a real good burger, you’d go to one of those new places where they cost $12 and are made to your liking. These places aren’t competing on price; they are trying to attract the consumer looking for good food. They have no toys, playgrounds, drive-thrus or meal deals.

There’s no shortage of people who will tell you the future of law is Burger King and McDonalds. They will tell you that this is what all the clients want, and it can be if that’s what you want. Compete on price, provide a cheap product, spend your days saying “next in line.” But those of us who have done this for a while can tell you about being on the winning and losing end of the client who hired the more expensive lawyer.

These clients weren’t looking for you to compete on price — they were looking for quality and service, maybe a little reputation to boot. My “competition” in the criminal arena is in your mailbox a few days after arrest. “Your fee is a lot higher but I don’t feel right hiring a lawyer that sent me something in the mail who wasn’t referred to me.” My competition in the Bar Admission field charges 20 percent of what I charge. That makes clients who take their admission seriously, suspicious. Those are my clients; the “competition” can have the others.

Next week we’ll talk about why the competition is your greatest resource.


Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at bt@tannebaumweiss.com.

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