Nov/Dec 2001

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Milton W. Zwicker ( is Managing Partner of Zwicker Evans & Lewis in Orillia, ONT, and the author of Successful Client Newsletters (ABA 1998).

Are clients getting what they want? Research findings on what consumers really value. Plus, one-stop-shopping coverage of the MDP debate in legal circles.

The Myth of Excellence: Why Great Companies Never Try to Be the Best at Everything Fred Crawford and Ryan Mathews. (Crown Publishing, 2001.) $27.50. ISBN: 0-60960820-7.

In The Myth of Excellence , Fred Crawford and Ryan Mathews describe what they learned from a study of more than 10,000 consumers around the world: Customers are fed up with companies trying to be excellent and world-class. What customers want instead is for their vendors to treat them with respect and trust.

"Human values, not commercial values, have become the contemporary currency of commerce," the authors assert. This idea makes this book an important one for lawyers, because the research behind it shows that what clients really want are the values that should be part of every lawyer’s professional makeup—trust, respect, honesty, dignity and courtesy. The authors proclaim: "The need for respect—to be treated like a human being—shouted so loudly at us as we reviewed the research that it’s hard to believe all companies don’t market it along with their more traditional goods."

Crawford and Mathews use the term customer relevancy to describe the ability of businesses to see customers through this new currency. This means that when customers shop for goods and services, they want a better alignment of the commercial context with their personal values. The authors believe their research shows that businesses—even the world’s most successful ones—misunderstand what customers really want. These businesses have bought into the myth of excellence: the false belief that a company must be good at everything it does. This belief arises from the failure of businesses to listen to what their customers are saying. Understanding client or consumer expectations is the key to creating the right service formula.

The authors assign to commercial transactions five attributes: price, product, access, service and experience. Access, price and product are about what you offer, while experience and service are about how you offer it. To succeed, companies don’t have to excel in all five areas. They need to select one and build their business around it. The authors message is, don’t try to be all things to all people. Instead, find out what values your clients want your services to embody. There is only one way to know what attribute to pursue: You must talk to your clients.

Lawyers, like the many retail businesses described in this book, must learn to translate their language and services into offerings that resonate with clients. When you read this book, you may find yourself (as I did) asking: Do I know what my clients are really looking for? The Myth of Excellence offers not only a diagnosis of the problem, but a blueprint for law firms to understand their clients’ needs better.

Multidisciplinary Practice: Staying Competitive and Adapting to Change

Edited by Gary A. Munneke and Ann L. MacNaughton. (ABA Law Practice Management Section, 2001.) $59.95; LPM Section members: $49.95. PC: 511-0450.

Are MDPs a threat or an opportunity for the legal profession? In its 13 chapters, Multidisciplinary Practice: Staying Competitive and Adapting to Change covers various issues in the ongoing debate.

Gary Munneke (the book’s co-editor) wrote the opening chapter. He sees in the multidisciplinary debate a revolution that will affect big, small and solo firms alike. Munneke believes that lawyers will need to embrace MDPs if they want to compete effectively.

In Chapter 2, Ann MacNaughton (also a co-editor) describes the innovative ways lawyers already work with other professionals. Do these trends mean that MDPs in the United States are inevitable? MacNaughton does not say, but she does pose this question: Do rules of ethics that preclude innovation in service delivery systems serve the best interests of clients and the public?

Expanding on the argument, Chapter 3 author Anthony E. Davies says, "The effort to restrict multijurisdictional law practice runs entirely counter to the edifice on which the late twentieth-century American—and global—economic expansion has been built; namely, the inexorable movement toward removal of barriers to free trade." Ward Bower, in Chapter 7, follows up on this point. He believes that we can view the ban on MDPs as economic protectionism. Unless regulators can show how they threaten public or client interests, the ban will fail.

However, Thomas S. Clay, who wins the award for the shortest chapter, captures the big reason we cannot afford to ignore the MDP debate, no matter what side we support: Clients dictate who and what institutions will represent them. Our clients will in the end determine the success or failure of MDPs. So, will law firm clients take to MDPs the way many proponents suggest?

This book offers little evidence, except the world of the Big Five accounting firms, to support the theory that clients want one-stop shopping. In addition, although one-stop-shopping concepts are already in place in other industries, Multidiscplinary Practice does not tell how those industries’ customers are reacting. Most of the debate about the good versus ills of MDPs is lawyer-centered instead of client-centered.

It is difficult to judge the advantages and disadvantages of MDPs without supporting business or marketplace analysis. Lawyers and their advisors need to pay more attention to the lessons and advice that business offers as they study and debate the role of MDPs. Multidisciplinary Practice, nonetheless, offers a good one-stop-shopping place to get in on the current MDP debate in legal circles.