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April 11, 2004

Another Lap Around Law Firm Branding

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 10:59 pm

checkered flags  Recent press about a NASCAR-sponsoring law firm has once again left me puzzled as to just how the client benefits from the branding efforts of lawyers. (E.g., AP/ESPN, Firm sponsors Cup, Busch, Truck teams; Larry Bodine’s Law Marketing Blog; and here)

The La Plata, Maryland, law firm of Jenkins, Jenkins & Jenkins apparently decided last winter to use a connection with NASCAR motorsports as a branding and marketing tool. The three-lawyer firm includes Louis P. Jenkins, Sr., who founded the firm in 1955, and his two sons, Frank and Louis, Jr.. Frank Jenkins is the moving force behind the motorsport connection. In the A/P article, he explains:

“Anytime you are involved in a legal situation it’s pretty unsettling. People want a friend there. They see we are involved in stock car racing as a sponsor and feel we have something in common — a love of racing. So they call to ask us to help.”

“We’re in motorsports to get our name out there, to receive brand recognition and to let NASCAR fans know we are as big a fan as they are.”

To make sure the link to auto racing won’t be missed, the firm’s website domain name is racinglaw.com/ . It’s doesn’t “do” Racing Law, of course. Instead, the firm appears to favor personal injury law, and lists its practice areas as Automobile Accidents; Corporate; Criminal; DUI/DWI & Traffic; Divorce; Medical Malpractice; Personal Injury; Real Estate Settlements; and Wrongful Death.

It’s a little hard to understand why this very-local law firm is seeking national attention and clients. Unfortunately, the firm’s About Us page gives no information at all about the founder, and has only the picture and name of Louis, Jr. However, Frank Jenkins is said to be a member of the Maryland Bar (since 1993). Although Frank’s short bio gives us the names of his high school and college, we are merely told “Mr. Jenkins graduated from law school.” (Given the NASCAR image he is cultivating, I wonder if Frank is covering up graduation from a highly prestigious law school.)

car blue flip I don’t know how much money it costs to become a major sponsor on the NASCAR circuit. Clearly, very little of the firm’s marketing budget went into the content of its website. Although we learn that “We are committed to providing aggressive representation for our clients” in personal injury cases, there is not one word of substantive information about any of the practice areas. The Resources/Links page has two law-related sites — the ABA and the Maryland Bar Association. It also includes a number of race driver fan websites, and a link to the law firm’s public relations firm.

How does the law client benefit from this expensive branding campaign? Is getting “a friend” who shares your love of motor-racing advantageous to the “upset” personal injury client? The DUI defendant?

  • I’ve voiced my concerns over law firm branding before (see Brand LEX), but I finally read Branding the Law Firm by the marketing firm InterAct. Frankly, I’m as skeptical as ever.
  • Soon (I hope), Matt Homann will give us his explanation of value billing, to help assuage my concern over the use of branding and value pricing to achieve “premium pricing” of lawyer fees. Matt suggested last month that I read The Firm of the Future: A Guide for Accountants, Lawyers, and Other Professional Services by Paul Dunn & Ronald J. Baker. Matt said that the book “sets out their vision of value pricing and serves as much of the model for my new firm.” I couldn’t find the book at my local Library (and won’t pay $40+ to buy one). However, I did use the Amazon.com “Search in the Book” feature to check out “value pricing” or “value billing” and ethics. The results were not the least bit calming for me on whether value billing will result in reasonable fees. For example (at p. 217)

    1. The book asserts there is no ethical contradiction, quoting from an ABA report, which says an agreed upon price is fair subject to market realities and the attorney’s professional obligations. Of course, that begs the question: the whole issue is what the lawyer’s obligations are when reaching the fee agreement (such as to disclose the amount of time needed to perform the work; or to limit profit to a reasonable level). and
    2. The book also says value pricing is ethically okay because businesses do it all the time — using airlines charging different fliers different prices for the same seat, movie theatres’ price for popcorn, and premium ice cream makers, as examples. My reaction: None of those sellers have fiducial duties; none promises to put the customers’ interests first (except when that will incease profits); none sell a product whose qualities the buyer is unable to judge. As I wrote back to Matt, “If movie theater popcorn is the touchstone for the ethics of value billing, I rest my case.”
    3. Update: For more on this topic see our posts LexThink about higher fees (er, value billing), Value Billing or Venal Bilking? and chronomentrophobia.

6 Comments

  1. I read with interest your comments on my book, which are not a complete understanding of my case made for Value Pricing. Any price agreed, up front and before the work is performed (this is key), is by definition a “fair” price. Even the ABA recognizes this to be the case. The problem is, lawyers don’t want to quote a price up-front because they are mired in the mentality that time equates to value. This is false. Time spent is merely efforts, and clients buy results. No client buys time, so how can we sell something clients don’t buy? I can’t make the case here, however, and suggest strongly you get hold of my books that decimate the logic for the billable hour and advocate a pricing strategy that aligns the interests of the lawyer and client. I also discuss the ethics of this in great detail, especially in Professional’s Guide to Value Pricing, 5th Edition (Aspen Publishers, Inc.).
    Sincerely,
    Ron Baker

    Comment by Ron Baker — April 26, 2004 @ 2:07 am

  2. I read with interest your comments on my book, which are not a complete understanding of my case made for Value Pricing. Any price agreed, up front and before the work is performed (this is key), is by definition a “fair” price. Even the ABA recognizes this to be the case. The problem is, lawyers don’t want to quote a price up-front because they are mired in the mentality that time equates to value. This is false. Time spent is merely efforts, and clients buy results. No client buys time, so how can we sell something clients don’t buy? I can’t make the case here, however, and suggest strongly you get hold of my books that decimate the logic for the billable hour and advocate a pricing strategy that aligns the interests of the lawyer and client. I also discuss the ethics of this in great detail, especially in Professional’s Guide to Value Pricing, 5th Edition (Aspen Publishers, Inc.).
    Sincerely,
    Ron Baker

    Comment by Ron Baker — April 26, 2004 @ 2:07 am

  3. Thank you for taking the time to Comment, Mr. Baker.   I readily agree that hourly billing is imperfect and has often been abused.  But, that is true of every billing method ever devised by any service provider.  I also agree that many alternative forms of billing can offer advantages over hourly billing in some circumstances.  See some of my prior postings:

    Posting 02/17/04 Value Billing or Venal Bilking?
    Posting 02/12/04 Fees and the Lawyer-Fiduciary
    Posting 01/31/04 Valuable Debate on Value Billing
    Posting 01/28/04 Fiduciary Duties and Contingency Fees
    Posting 01/28/04 Value Billing and Lawyer Ethics

    There is a tension and uncertainty with hiring any provider of a skilled service — especially, when the purchaser does not hire the provider on a fulltime basis and/or cannot readily predict the outcome or the amount of time needed to perform the service satisfactorily. 
    You state things in such absolutes that it is difficult to accept your conclusions. To say that “no client buys time” does not jibe with the reality of legal practice in many situations.  It often happens that the client is buying the lawyer’s time — that is, the lawyer’s application of his or her skills for the time it takes to solve a problem (or attempt to solve it — the “result” is often totally out of the hands of the lawyer or cannot be shown to be successful except over a longrun), or up to a maximum time limit or budget.
    It is hard to find a diplomatic way to respond to your statement “Any price agreed, up front and before the work is performed (this is key), is by definition a ‘fair’ price.  Even the ABA recognizes this to be the case.”   That statement is simply wrong.  Your own book acknowledges that the ABA says an agreed upon price is fair subject to market realities and the attorney’s professional obligations.  One professional obligation is to avoid charging an excessive fee.  Market realities and whether the client is fully informed and knowledgeable are other factors to be considered, as is the skill level needed, results obtained, the amount of time spent, and the inability of the lawyer to take on other work due to time constraints created by the client’s needs.   Rule 1.5 on fees, along with the entire history of enforcing the rule against unreasonable fees, makes it clear that the fairness of a fixed fee, or a fxed percentage on a contngent fee, can be judged after the service has been performed. 

    Comment by David Giacalone — April 26, 2004 @ 3:18 am

  4. Thank you for taking the time to Comment, Mr. Baker.   I readily agree that hourly billing is imperfect and has often been abused.  But, that is true of every billing method ever devised by any service provider.  I also agree that many alternative forms of billing can offer advantages over hourly billing in some circumstances.  See some of my prior postings:

    Posting 02/17/04 Value Billing or Venal Bilking?
    Posting 02/12/04 Fees and the Lawyer-Fiduciary
    Posting 01/31/04 Valuable Debate on Value Billing
    Posting 01/28/04 Fiduciary Duties and Contingency Fees
    Posting 01/28/04 Value Billing and Lawyer Ethics

    There is a tension and uncertainty with hiring any provider of a skilled service — especially, when the purchaser does not hire the provider on a fulltime basis and/or cannot readily predict the outcome or the amount of time needed to perform the service satisfactorily. 
    You state things in such absolutes that it is difficult to accept your conclusions. To say that “no client buys time” does not jibe with the reality of legal practice in many situations.  It often happens that the client is buying the lawyer’s time — that is, the lawyer’s application of his or her skills for the time it takes to solve a problem (or attempt to solve it — the “result” is often totally out of the hands of the lawyer or cannot be shown to be successful except over a longrun), or up to a maximum time limit or budget.
    It is hard to find a diplomatic way to respond to your statement “Any price agreed, up front and before the work is performed (this is key), is by definition a ‘fair’ price.  Even the ABA recognizes this to be the case.”   That statement is simply wrong.  Your own book acknowledges that the ABA says an agreed upon price is fair subject to market realities and the attorney’s professional obligations.  One professional obligation is to avoid charging an excessive fee.  Market realities and whether the client is fully informed and knowledgeable are other factors to be considered, as is the skill level needed, results obtained, the amount of time spent, and the inability of the lawyer to take on other work due to time constraints created by the client’s needs.   Rule 1.5 on fees, along with the entire history of enforcing the rule against unreasonable fees, makes it clear that the fairness of a fixed fee, or a fxed percentage on a contngent fee, can be judged after the service has been performed. 

    Comment by David Giacalone — April 26, 2004 @ 3:18 am

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