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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

May 20, 2004

The Lowered Expectation Game — Lawyers as Tin Men

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 11:30 pm

It’s easy to be cynical about lawyers, when the ABA eJournal publishes articles like When Less Is More: Lowering Client Expectations Can Increase Satisfaction, Referrals  (by Jill Schachner Chanen, 05-14-04).  The article begins:

“David Ward has a novel approach to rainmaking: If clients expect less from their lawyers, they will be even happier if the result turns out better than they had anticipated. These happy clients will then in turn be more willing to refer others, resulting in more business for the low-expectation lawyer.

“That’s because client satisfaction is directly tied to expectations, says Ward, a lawyer turned law-firm marketing professional in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.”

car blue flip   So, Ward and similar legal marketing “gurus” suggest ploys like quoting a far higher fee than you expect to charge, and estimating longer project completion (or even phone call return) times than you anticipate.  Very shrewd.  It’s probably sold a lot of aluminum siding and used cars.


We’ve fretted over lawyer marketing and branding before at this URL.  [E.g, Brand Lex (03-04-04); Spoofable?  (03-03-04)]  And, we had hoped to do a lot less of it.  But, this latest tripe makes us wonder when Tin Men — either Danny DeVito in the Levinson film, or Jack Haley in the first half of The Wizard of Ozbecame role models for lawyers.  This expectation manipulation is what the FTC had in mind in its Guides Against Deceptive Pricing  (“where an artificial, inflated price was established for the purpose of enabling the subsequent offer of a large reduction . . .  the purchaser is not receiving the unusual value he expects”).


donkey  Even our mascot, Donkey O.T., is braying in disbelief that otherwise ethical lawyers would attempt to explain why there’s not really any deception involved.   It’s scary that people who can pass a bar exam would think such advice amounts to marketing wisdom, and are willing to pay for it, or sponsor and attend seiminars espousing these strategies.

  • P.S. A simple test:  If you’d be embarrassed to tell your client your marketing strategy, it’s probably unethical (even if not a technical or obvious violation of any particular rule of professional conduct).

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