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You buy holes, not drill bits



Do you think about what you are buying when you purchase legal services? Do your lawyers ask you what you are buying? If asked, many clients would respond that they were buying one of the following:

  • Time (the lawyer's)

  • A work product (e.g. A lease, contract, advice)

  • A legal outcome (e.g. A successful court case, an injunction, an effective contract).

Some more sophisticated purchasers of legal services may answer they are purchasing a solution. The truly enlightened will understand they're buying both the solution, and the effect of the solution and the experience of obtaining the solution.

In Bill What You're Worth , David W Cottle repeats a story from a surgeon:

“Do you know how long it takes a good surgeon to remove an appendix from first incision to closure? Seven minutes.  If you gave me two hours with anyone smart enough to finish college in five years, I could teach him or her how to remove an appendix.  It’s really very simple.  But do you know how long it would take me to teach that same college graduate what to do if something went wrong while removing that appendix?  Six years of medical training.”

A couple of lessons from this – when purchasing a service, you should be paying for skill rather than time spent.

But even more importantly, you should be focussing on outcomes and the experience, which define value, rather than the mechanics of the task itself.  The value to the patient is the successful removal of the appendix, and resolution of any complications, rather than the time taken.  As someone else put its – you are buying the hole not the drill bits.

Some consultants, when advising about cost management, emphasise the desirability of ensuring that the least expensive fee earners do the greatest proportion of the work.  This can be a false economy – it may be more effective for a skilled and experienced lawyer to undertake the work, providing a better outcome.

You don't buy drill bits (the service), you buy holes, or the capacity to create holes.  When considering the value of the service, look at what you are actually purchasing.

What would Peter do?

What would Peter do?