Is Your Firm Walmart or Neiman Marcus?

By Ally Kennedy, Founder of Amiga

At the American Immigration Lawyers Association Solo and Small Firm Conference in December 2016, I heard a speaker say something that made me take a harder look at my business. He said that he charges a large amount of money to do certain types of cases, and that when he finally made the switch to higher prices he realized, “Walmart is not concerned with what Neiman Marcus is doing and Neiman Marcus is not concerned with what Walmart is doing.”

This statement is powerful. It shed light on questions that are important for all solos and small firms to consider:

Is it your business plan to have the lowest prices on the market?

If so, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. However, deciding to be the low cost leader must be purposeful. Many of us solos and small firms end up with prices that are extremely low just because we don’t feel empowered to charge more or we feel bad to increase our fee.

If your prices are very low, ask yourself- “Do I want to be known as the low cost attorney?”

Do you prefer a volume practice to a practice that has lower amounts of cases that are priced higher?

There is a great deal of space between the extremes here, so it is important to find what feels right and works for you.

As your practice grows, your perspective on this may change. For example, when you are first starting out and you need to pay the bills, high volume for a lower amount may be the right solution for you. Then, as time goes on, that balance can change a bit (or a lot).

There is no “right answer” for this. I worked for a long-established law firm who valued low, accessible prices and had high-volume, low-profit as a business model. Only you know what’s right for you and your business.

If you want to be Neiman Marcus (or Macy’s or Nordstrom or somewhere else in between), what are you doing differently than others to make it worth the additional value to your clients?

Neiman Marcus does everything high-end, from the brands that it carries to its customer service. Recently I was shopping there and when the sales associate came over to start a room for me, I was offered bottle water and chocolates while I browsed. It was a small detail that felt personalized and expensive.

My favorite restaurant offers a (free) glass of champagne every time we walk in the door. It feels fancy, high-end, and we feel very pampered every time we go. Because we enjoy the champagne so much, we looked up the brand and it turns out that the bottle costs about $20.00. The glass of champagne costs the restaurant so little, however it makes the experience feel very posh.

These examples highlight how small, thoughtful details can take your firm from Macy’s to Neiman Marcus. At the end of the day, most of us do the same legal work with the same results. In our firms we can offer small “upgrades” that are value-adds to the client with little or no cost to us. For example:

  • Offer bottles of water or a glass of water to everyone who comes in
  • Create a menu of teas, coffees, and drinks that you have available for clients
  • Bring your clients their drinks on a silver platter
  • Provide a list of services included with your flat fee, such as in-house translations, notary services, client/attorney meetings, client/ attorney phone calls, and more
  • Contact every client every single month by letter, like we have available in Amiga Docs, and/or by phone

    These are all services you would already be offering, but by listing them out the client feels like s/he is receiving more value.

What do your clients want from their lawyer?

Is it low prices solely? Are they willing to pay more for more hand-holding and dedicated attention? Would they want an associate attorney who bills at a lower rate to handle the case, or would they prefer a partner or senior attorney?

By understanding what your clients want, it will help you determine price and also determine how to interact with your clients in a way that is meaningful for them.

How do you want to be known on the Walmart – Neiman Marcus scale?

This can be a hard one for us to answer. For many solos and small firms, especially those run by women, we feel like we should offer lower prices and that we should want to do it for the cause and no other reason. It took a long time for me to break free of the low-cost model, but when I did, it allowed me to enhance my clients’ experience exponentially and also increased my income substantially. Try to think of what you would like to do differently/ more of for your clients. Also consider what kind of lifestyle you would like to create by owning/ running your legal business.

I would love to hear from you! Where do you fall on the Walmart – Neiman Marcus scale? What tips do you have?

About your Ally in Life, Business and Law:

Alexandra "Ally" Kennedy is a national award-winning attorney and the founder of AMIGA Lawyers and Alexandra Kennedy Immigration Law.. After becoming a mother, and in a matter of 3 months, Ally transformed her practice from earning in pesos to earning 6-figures and she is passionate about teaching attorneys how they can do the same. Ally empowers lawyers to be the CEOs of their law firms with her weekly blog, webinars, and conferences where she teaches step-by-step how to do the work they love while running a profitable legal business. Ally lives outside of Seattle with her partner and their 5 children.