Friday, June 19, 2009, 8:03 AM

The Secret Sauce - Law Firms, Spaghetti Sauce and Consumer Choice

An influential inside counsel and friend wrote to me this morning to say that Womble Carlyle reminds him of Prego spaghetti sauce.

A puzzling way to start the day, no doubt, until he went on to explain that he had just viewed a short video of "The Tipping Point" and "Blink" author Malcolm Gladwell extolling one of his heroes, Howard Moscowitz.

Moscowitz is a marketing consultant who, among many strokes of genius, transformed the spaghetti sauce industry in the 1980s by helping Prego to understand that consumers want not just one sauce, which at the time was how Ragu had achieved dominance, but many sauces. As a result of Moscowitz's work, today consumers have a universe of spaghetti sauce styles ranging from traditional, to extra chunky, mushroom and garlic, marinara, roasted garlic herb, 3 cheese, Italian sausage and garlic, and scores of others -- each one perfect for some consumer somewhere.

In the video, Gladwell explains that the paternalism of the spaghetti sauce industry in the 1970s led to the notion that there was one perfect sauce, which, he explains ignores the diversity of humanity and the individual tastes of consumers. By "horizontally segmenting" the market (i.e. giving consumers choice), Moscowitz and Prego revolutionized the spaghetti sauce industry, delighted customers and prospererd.

In telling me that Womble Carlyle is like Prego, my inside-counsel colleague is delivering a supreme compliment, for he is contending that Womble Carlyle has listened to and heard the messages of legal services buyers -- messages delivered in earnest of late in the ACC's Value Challenge. With more than 1,400 people -- some lawyers, some businesspeople of other sorts, all devoted to client delight -- we have the capacity to create not just one universal standard of great service, but an infinite number of standards of great service, each tailored to the unique wants and needs of each buyer. In other words, Custom Client Service Solutions.

I consider being compared to Prego a great compliment, and exactly what our firm's leadership has been talking about when they say that the practice of law has been permanently transformed, and that Womble Carlyle will lead the way by becoming truly the law firm of the future.

A shout out to MyShingle.com which is the source of the story that led my inside-counsel colleague to tell me that Womble Carlyle is a Prego-esque law firm.

- Steve Bell

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