Managing the Perception of Value

Volume 38 Number 5


About the Author

Ann Guinn is a practice management consultant to solo and small-firm lawyers, based in Kent, WA. She is also the author of Minding Your Own Business: The Solo and Small Firm Lawyer’s Guide to a Profitable Practice

Law Practice Magazine | September/October 2012 | The Recruitment and Retention Issue
Are you suffering from “free kitty syndrome?” It’s not a medical condition; it’s about your clients’ perceptions of the value of your services. Do they see you as a good value?

Value is measured by the benefit or payoff received compared to the price paid. Something that is considered a “good” value is perceived to be worth more than it cost. On the other hand, we tend not to put much value on things we get for free. That’s why we explain away a disappointing, low-priced product or service with, “Well, you get what you pay for.” I call this the free kitty syndrome, and I came to understand it with the help of a youngster holding a box marked “Free Kittens” outside my grocery store one day.

I wasn’t the only person who stopped, picked up a kitty, gave it a cuddle, then put it back with a, “Not today, thanks.” At the end of the day, I watched the little boy climb into his mother’s car with sagging shoulders and a boxful of kittens.

Next day, I was back, and so was he. But this time he was packing up an empty box. Victory! I congratulated him on giving all the kitties away, but he said, “It wasn’t me—it was the sign.” He held it up: “Kittens $5 Each.” He said people were almost fighting over them. By establishing a value for the diminutive felines, the young man had given his customers a way to determine if the expected payoff was greater than the cost. The perception of value was established.


For the most part, your clients aren’t able to judge the quality of a brief, the brilliance of a closing argument or the skill required to negotiate a favorable outcome. They must look for something they can measure, so they look for value in other areas. To help them develop a perception of value around your services, you must deliver value in a way they understand.               

Start at the beginning—and remember free kitty syndrome. Are your initial consultations free? Even a nominal fee places importance and value on this meeting. Give this meeting a name more reflective of the value to the client, such as a dissolution options analysis, personal assets protection conference or debt relief strategy conference. Giving the client a meaningful take-away will definitely increase the perceived value. Think checklists, a business resource sheet (e.g., contact information for bankers, real estate agents, family counselors, chiropractors, auto body shops, etc.), a Top 10 Things You Need to Know brochure or a copy of your notes outlining the issues. This is your chance to show that you are a great value—that your worth exceeds the cost. Then don’t stop once you’ve been hired.

Use your billing descriptions to clearly demonstrate the benefit to the client of your services. “Telephone conference with Mr. Brown regarding children’s holiday visitation schedule, equitable division of stock portfolio and petitioner’s proposed buyout of community home” shows considerably more value than “T/C with opp couns.” Show no-charge items on your bills. Offer a free annual will review, phone the client personally with updates, sponsor a class for the newly divorced on how to manage household finances, offer to speak to a client’s professional organization, schedule weekend or evening appointments, provide in-house training on employment law issues—the sky’s the limit.

Choose one client every day, and ask yourself, “What would provide even more value to this client today?” Then do it.


At the end of representation, conduct an exit interview with your client. Ask, “What was the best part of working with us/me?” (setting the perception of value). Follow with, “What could we do to make your experience with us even better next time?” By showing how much you value the client, your value is going to increase in that person’s mind.

Just as the young kitten salesman helped his customers develop a perception of value around the kitties, you can do the same. At every opportunity, build maximum value into your services—and make sure your client understands that value. If you don’t create a perception of value around your services, your clients won’t either. Perception of value is not about smoke, mirrors and deception. It’s about shaping your client’s experience by delivering quality and value every time.





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