Invisible Work

You don’t get credit for things people don’t see. It is as simple as it gets. At Law School I realized pretty quickly that law and the business of law are two very distinct things. And being successful as a lawyer has more to do with how good you are at the business of law than your mastery of the letter of the law. I still remember in awe when my marketing professor at Law School unveiled how the detergent industry works. He revealed that the average performance of soaps and detergents ranks at around 70%. Don’t be mistaken. Detergent companies could raise the performance to 80% or 90%; however, there is a point where consumers are not able to perceive additional whiteness in their laundry. Therefore, the incremental effort that it would take to make their products all that more powerful would not be perceived or valued by the consumer. As such, it would result in a waste of resources. I was shocked. Companies were not necessarily doing the best they could but instead the best within the range perceived by their targeted consumer.

This got me thinking. This lesson about the importance of demonstrating perceived value and being recognized for one’s efforts don’t just apply to the soap business. They are so ubiquitous in fact that lawyers could also gain value from this lesson. Let me explain.

Thinking in terms of creating visibility is not a common strategy among lawyers. I can almost say that this strategy is in direct opposition to many law firms’ philosophy of maintaining a low profile and being under the radar. Law firms and lawyers tend to have a conservative nature that impedes their interest in embracing social media, self-promotion, outreach or preaching their skills. Many lawyers think their work speaks for itself. However, I can put myself in the client’s perspective and realize how difficult it is to assess a legal piece of work. What makes a contract great? Is it the simplicity of its language? Is it when a non-lawyer understands its content? How easy was it to negotiate? That the client gets a great price? That it protects the client from problems when they show up? That the client doesn’t need to look back at it for the rest of the contractual relationship?

There is not a clear measure by which to assess the greatness of a legal piece of work. This is the very reason that makes it frankly challenging to show clients the value you are delivering, the greatness of your performance as a lawyer and why they should choose to work with you rather than any other lawyer in this crowed space. Clients are left to make their own subjective assessment perceiving value from ancillary tasks such as email responsiveness; prior deals you’ve work on; market reputation; the brand of the law firm you work for; referrals... All external factors not directly related with the core of the services delivered by a lawyer: legal advice.

Let’s take a moment to understand how this dynamic plays out in a transaction where professionals from many industries are involved. Let’s say there is a relevant private M&A deal going on (as it turns out, the area of law I have practiced for almost 8 years). If the deal is sizeable enough, this kind of transaction will attract a number of professionals such as investment bankers, auditors, … and obviously lawyers. It is striking to see how investment bankers have a much easier time demonstrating their value to the client. If you are on the selling side, the higher the (sales)prize you can get for the shareholders, the better the investment banker is doing his/her work, the more he/she will get paid. It’s a simple, direct correlation that translates into generous pay for the investment banker.

In the same scenario, how can you, the lawyer, show that the product you are delivering (i.e. drafting and negotiating a share purchase agreement) is better than anticipated or better than a competitor’s? There might be a lot of work that goes into drafting outstanding representation and warranties or a damages clause, but the client might not realize how valuable that work is until 2 years down the line when a problem in the company he/she bought shows up. If the client ever does realize it, the opportunity to recognize the lawyer for their exemplary work is usually long gone and with it a well-deserved bonus.

The question is, how do lawyers prevent their work from going unseen, invisible? As with the detergent example, how can we find our sweet spot without wasting valuable resources? How does a lawyer keep this scenario from happening? Visibility is the key that unlocks clients’ doors in markets where differentiation is very difficult to attain. In simple words, being visible allows lawyers to demonstrate their skills, land prominent projects, and build strategic relationships.

How do you then get this visibility that will bring flows of business? How do you show clients in tangible ways the value that you are bringing to the table as a lawyer? The rise of legal operations is a movement towards making the leap from legal invisible work into tangible valued legal work. The answer might lay in gathering relevant data and unveiling its hidden patterns for the benefit of clients and lawyers.

Think of all the tasks that go unnoticed throughout your day. There are a lot of tasks that are hard to monetize for lawyers and fall through the cracks, such as preparation, research, quick over the phone assistance, preparation of pitches for beauty contests or client presentations. This affects both lawyers who follow a billing hour model or flat rate business models. Because even lawyers charging clients a flat rate want to be able to show their clients the work they are performing in an accurate manner. Here is where embracing a legal operations mindset paired with better technological tools designed for lawyers might help close the visibility gap.

Don’t leave your work in the dark, be bold and take a moment to shine a light on the work you do for your clients and show your value.

About the Author

Isabella Galeano is a lawyer, legal innovation expert, a law professor at Esade Law School, and host of the legal innovation podcast The Quirky Lawyer. Her mission is to contribute to the transformation of the legal industry and to inspire lawyers around the world.

She graduated from Esade Law School in 2010. Her professional practice has always been related to corporate law, M&A and the business world. She has worked at leading international and Spanish law firms for over seven years. Her clients were in a broad range of industries, including financial services, technology, manufacturing, foods & beverages and retail. She has also worked in Nike’s and Medtronic’s legal departments. In 2018 she graduated from an LLM at Georgetown University Law Center.

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