When talking about business development, people talk a lot about “creating value” but much less often about what that actually means. It is difficult to articulate in absolutes what “value” means because it will be different depending on the circumstances. It will depend on what needs are held by the person for whom you want to create “value,” what skillset you have, the nature of your relationship, the maturity of your relationship, any interests you share and more.
All kinds of factors go into what is “valuable” to any particular person in any given case. Many things have changed in the legal landscape recently, many driven by advancements in technology that have impacted — and will continue to impact — lawyers who are trying to identify what is “valuable” to their clients and contacts. Not the least of these is that the bottom has dropped out of the value of legal information.
A big part of a lawyer’s value proposition used to be that we could provide our clients with relevant legal information. Clients were willing to pay us for that because it was difficult to access; it was scarce and you had to have a special position to get it. Now it is ubiquitous. Anyone who has a computer can get pretty much any information they want, including pure legal information and in some cases even legal advice.
So what is still valuable?
Generally, the things that are valuable are the things that are scarce — and there aren’t many of them left in our market!
One important thing that is scarce, arguably getting more so and thus something clients are willing to pay for, is a strong relationship — the sense of a genuine connection with another human being engaged in a common interest or activity.
The instances of genuine human connection between people in this world are declining in direct proportion to the rise in the use of technology and the Internet for purposes of communication and engagement. And, yet, there are vast amounts of research proving that sense of belonging and connection remains the primary source of happiness and fulfilment for humans.
Wherever there is a need that is not being met, there is an opportunity. There is no exception. In this age where genuine human connection is becoming less and less available, if you find ways to create it with people around you (including your clients and contacts):
a. you will be meeting one of their (and your) most fundamental human needs;
b. the bonds that grow between you will become extremely strong; and
c. those bonds will pay dividends to you and to them both professionally and personally.
In highlighting the value of genuine human connection, I am not advocating that lawyers foreswear the use of technology. By all means, you should be using all the tools that are available to you, including digital tools, to engage with people and make connections.
But to give yourself the greatest chance of succeeding in creating connections, make sure you use all of them in ways that:
a. demonstrate your passion and your expertise;
b. reveal things about yourself that will create common ground with people you want to have in your professional sphere;
c. make you so compelling to those people that they will want to find opportunities to connect with you; and
d. make clear that relationships and creating genuine connections with people is important to you.
This is actually one very important way in which professional and commercial interaction is still like it was before technology started advancing at the speed of light — when most significant interactions between people were conducted face to face.
Lawyers who have built strong businesses have always had to demonstrate their passions and expertise, engage with their communities and make themselves compelling and create a sense of trust and a sense of genuine human connection with the people in their spheres.
The difference between now and then is that it is all happening on a larger scale and in two dimensions — one live and one digital — and you have to be paying attention to both.