Sell The Sizzle, Not The Steak!

Sell Your Service Not The Paperwork. . . .


I hear all too often that the nature of practice is changing and that we need to adapt to the new realities of practice. I agree and I disagree. Let me explain.

For too long, the focus in legal practice is the result as measured by the quantity and quality of documents produced and the time it takes to produce them. From the client’s perspective, it will be the results that those documents produce that will be important. The counseling prior and the execution of the document later is the valuable component. If you missed that point, you are destined to follow the pack and miss out on valuable opportunities later.

Go on-line and you will find all the information you need to produce a Will which may be legally adequate in all 50 states. But, it is devoid of the important considerations that most clients don’t even realize are absent from those documents. Think about it – what is the most important thing in your life? Is it in there? Does it address your special concerns? Lawyers have been attuned to think that the value rendered is the paper product. In reality, the value is in the counsel rendered and the execution on that document after the client has passed away. In a sense, the least valuable component of your service is the document itself. With over 25 years of experience, I can tell you that most attorneys miss the point. . . .

If you have a loved one who is advanced in years, I would venture a guess that many of them have pets. I will bet that you can relate to the senior who has an overweight chihuahua which sheds abundantly and will bite anyone who attempts to pick it up, except grandma! Grandma’s husband has passed away, her children have moved far away and many of her friends are no longer alive. For grandma, that dog which is 16 years old and missing half its teeth, is the most important point of contact and social interaction in her life. She cooks a special recipe for that dog and mashes it up so that it can eat with the few teeth it has left. Every time she sits down, that dog occupies a special place on her lap. Ask her about her bank account and she will give you some numbers without much of a reaction. Ask her if she owns any pets and she will light up and tell you stories about how she loves that dog and how that dog loves her.

Ask her about the disposition of that animal when she dies, and you will see a transformation in her demeanor. Ask about her bank account, and you will not get that kind of reaction. As I tell my students, “sell the sizzle, not the steak”.  Don’t do what many lawyers do. Don’t conduct an intake based upon your agenda gathering information to complete the end result in your mind – the document. In the process, you miss the opportunity to connect with the client in a meaningful way. So you will compete with every other lawyer and the internet on PRICE. That is a loosing formula for a successful practice.

I can tell you from experience that many of my clients have not given much thought to the care of their pets at death. They really appreciate the fact that I asked about “Buster”. Many of them ask that their beloved pet be euthanized as opposed to being trans located to a setting in which that animal could not adapt. Many of them make provisions for money to be set aside in trust for their beloved pet. Under Michigan law, you can establish a pet trust.  Recently, I had a client who asked that her pets ashes be placed beside her in her casket and buried with her.

The nature of legal practice is really not changing. The platform and the range of legal service providers certainly is expanding – but there is no reason why you cannot compete effectively. But you need to understand human nature. Address those things that are important to your clients. The minute you understand this, the conversation will turn from how much you charge for the service to the valuable aspects of your wise counsel. It will turn on what value you will bring to the table in the quality of services you provide. How much would grandma pay to insure that her very important dog was taken care of upon her death? It is no longer about price or speed once you engage your clients concerning their real needs. You don’t get that on-line, and most of the time, you don’t get that type of connection with lawyers who are focused on their agenda and not the client’s real concerns. Every area of practice offers you opportunities to connect with your clients. In my future posts, I will give you tips and methods to connect with your clients and distinguish you from all the rest. It isn’t that there are too many lawyers, there are just too many who don’t get it. Stay with me and you will get it.

Through my posts, you will learn how to sell the sizzle and not the steak and grow your business in the process. Thank you for taking the time to read my post.

Posted in For Established Solos, For Law Students, For Recent Graduates.


  1. Pingback: ‘Don’t Be the Dog in the Basket’ – Solo Practice Expert Shares How to Use True Stories to Help Clients Understand Need for Lawyer Expertise | cooleylawschoolblog

  2. A nice take on what lawyers seem to be missing in building client relationships. As an attorney with more than 40 years under my belt (as well as a few extra pounds) I am very aware of the need to personalize what we do.

    Fortunately I have clients who are very loyal. I am now representing the third generation of some families.

    Now I am also a professional speaker. When I present to legal groups I explain to them the great power in storytelling. Not only tell your story, but engage the client in such a way that they start telling you stories of their life. That exchange helps to form a real bond. It is the way to learn what is of value to the client and, thus, what should be of value to you.

    Paperwork is nice. But you have to listen first.

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