Monthly Archives: April 2010

What Does a Legal “Unconference” Look Like?

I had the privilege of facilitating the ABA’s National Roundtable on Lawyer Specialty Certification in Denver last month.  We brought together around 50 lawyers, threw out the agenda, and let the attendees control their day.  Here’s what happened.

Happier Clients Make Fewer Choices


Have you ever tried shopping for toothpaste at Target or Wal-Mart?  Once you decide on your brand of toothpaste (I've always been a Crest man), you're still faced with a dizzying array of choices.  And, if you're like me, you spend far too much time deciding upon a product and often feel dissatisfied with your ultimate choice.

Turns out we are not alone.  In her new book The Art of Choosing, business school professor Sheena Iyengar presents research that proves people's decision making skills  worsen when presented with a plethora of choices.  In other words, people decide better (and spend more) when given fewer choices.

In this Wall Street Journal article, Professors Iyengar's famous "jam experiment" is detailed:

In a Palo Alto, Calif., supermarket known for its exceptionally vast range of products, she set up two different booths offering shoppers the chance to sample various unusual preserves. One booth offered 24 different options; the other only six. You would think that, with more choices in the first booth, more shoppers who stopped there would find a flavor they liked and go on to buy a jar. But the opposite happened: People tried more samples and bought a lot more jam at the booth with six varieties.

The people who stopped at the 24-jam booth didn't say: "Please take away most of these options so I can more easily make a decision." They simply felt overwhelmed and less willing to make any choice at all. The same feeling can arise in people who are offered an array of detailed investment options or in college students who must choose four or five classes from among the hundreds listed in the course catalog. In these situations, perhaps some strategy for choice, established in advance, could help discipline the decision-making process by focusing it on a manageable set of options.

So, next time you have a client conversation, remember that you may be better off discussing a few options instead of many.  Instead of giving your clients lots of choices, curate the list down to a solid few.  You'll end up with happier, less-confused clients who will thoughtfully consider their options, instead of being overwhelmed  by them.

Some Great Advice from Design Pros

I ran across this article titled I Wish I Would Have Known: Answers From 11 Top Freelancers, where several design professionals share their hardest lessons learned.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  From Steven Snell:

I wish I would have known that clients tend to not take a project very seriously if they are paying low rates. When I started out I knew that learning and getting experience was more important than making money at that stage, so I did some very cheap projects. I worked with several people who wanted a website, but it seemed that since they were investing very little into it financially, they just didn’t take it seriously and put in the effort on their end that is needed to have a successful web presence. Not only did that make it more difficult for me to do a good job, but it really did a dis-service to their business because their websites weren’t as effective as they could have been.

  From Sean Baker:

You’re closing up your meeting with a potential client. Everything went smoothly and you think you’re about to land the job. Said client asks for your hourly rate, in which you give and explain. Unless you’re underselling your talents greatly, their next question will almost always be: “Great, and how long will it take you?” Suddenly you’re in a corner… and you’re panicked. You don’t want to scare them away, so you feel implied to answer immediately, usually shorting yourself on time simply to appease. Congratulations, you’ve just pigeonholed this project. From here you’ll either be doing some free work or you’ll run the client off once they see a higher rate than you originally gave.

  From Brian Yerkes:

You have to ensure that you don’t take it personally, ever. This is the biggest thing that I personally struggle with. When a client emails to tell me that they aren’t happy with a design, it puts me in a bad mood for a few hours. It’s the number one thing that I try to deal with better every time it happens. Fortunately, 99% of the time, my clients are happy with my work, but you can never win them all.

  From Kostandinos:

Don’t be afraid to say “no” to a project. If I could only pass along one small piece of advice to kids starting out, and even to those who’ve been at it for a while, that’s it. Sometimes it’s really not worth it… in more ways than one. Have a bad feeling about a client? Trust your gut and walk away. One more thing: Sometimes the most important and best projects are the ones you do for yourself, including working on your portfolio and re-branding yourself. The devil is in the details… get out your pitchforks.

This advice could have just as easily be given by (and to) lawyers.  Remember, your clients, peers and friends often face the exact same challenges in their (non-legal) businesses.  Engage them, learn from them, and don’t make the same mistakes they have.

Should You Touch Your Clients More?

 There’s some very interesting research on the power of touch in business situations.  In this Harvard Business Review post, author Peter Bregman, shares this experiment that found that a brief, light touch affects people’s decision making:

In one experiment, as a woman showed subjects to their seats in the lab, she lightly and briefly touched some of them on the back of their shoulder. Then researchers asked the subjects whether they would prefer a certain amount of money or whether they’d prefer to gamble for the chance to win more money, receiving nothing if they lost. The people who were touched were 50 percent more likely to take the gamble. 50 percent!

And it’s not just any touch. A handshake didn’t achieve the same result. A handshake isn’t comforting, but a touch on the shoulder or back is.

Another study, profiled in the New York Times, found that touch can result in:

almost immediate changes in how people think and behave …. Students who received a supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class as those who did not, studies have found. A sympathetic touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that the visit lasted twice as long, compared with estimates from people who were untouched.

Obviously, good taste and propriety should rule the day when it comes to touch, but perhaps next time, instead of expecting that pat on the back from your client, you should give one instead.

Legal Innovation Scarcity

While on an airplane last week, I was catching up on some long-overdue blog reading and ran across this post in Kevin Kelly's ever-fascinating The Technium.  Kevin discusses "The Shirky Principle" from author Clay Shirky that says, "Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution."  Put another way, "Established industries like to focus on established problems," and are often incapable of changing because, like the media industry, "they are still solving the last problem." 

As law firms struggle to develop alternative billing models, I wonder if they too, are still busy solving the last problem.  Shouldn't their focus instead be on how to deliver the service their clients need and want, instead of just changing the way they charge for what they always have done?  It is one of the reasons that small, nimble firms and entrepreneurial start-ups will have far more to say about the future of law practice than the big-firm legal industry will acknowledge.  What do you think?

Ignite Law Videos

I've been on the road pretty much non-stop the last 60 days, so I owe everyone an Ignite Law recap.  Until then, here are all the videos from the great event.  Thanks to everyone who made it a fun night!