Monday, June 1, 2009, 8:44 AM

Value at Both Ends: It Ain't Necessarily the Price

Many in the legal blogosphere are aware of the innotive FMC Technologies Litigation Law Value Challenge, which was promoted on Legal OnRamp: http://tinyurl.com/l7vpow. The challenge, whose responses were due yesterday, is well-described on law.com: http://tinyurl.com/q8by2o

Womble Carlyle was one of, no doubt, scores of law firms that that authored a response to FMC Technologies' request for information about that which "truly and substantially distinguishes your firm from other firms in terms of providing value." The exercise caused us to consider again the value-oriented principles that we espouse with our Custom Client Service Solutions. The FMC Technologies RFP and response was one of three recent experiences that have re-awakened me to the manifestation of value in the real world. Here are the others:

During the American Lawyer's Law Firm Business Development Conference on May 20 (http://tinyurl.com/lxhopl), I had the occasion to visit with prospective clients at lunch at Del Fresco's restaurant in midtown Manhattan. With a Rockefeller Center address, Del Fresco's is, you can be sure, on the pricey side, but a waiter named Nathan (he never did mention his last name) made sure our party got a great corner table where we could have a reasonably private conversation, did not get annoyed when our orders were modest (in-house counsel DO notice abject gluttony, after all!), and - in general - took great care of us. Nathan's attentiveness and understanding that we also needed "space" ensured that my partners and I and our guests had a pleasant lunch and, more importantly, a solid conversation. At the end of lunch, Nathan asked for business cards, indicating he wanted to contact us about upcoming offers. I was the only one who actually turned in a business card. This morning, I got a handwritten note from Nathan thanking us for coming to Del Frisco's and indicating he looked forward to seeing us again. High price, high value.

Another value anecdote: As the food-supply maven in our family, I was tasked yesterday with stocking up, so with some trepidation about what could be an unpleasant experience, I drove to the local not-too-many-frills grocery store -- Shopper's Food Warehouse. As I checked out, the cashier (wish I had taken care to get his name), noticed that in between the bulk purchases was evidence of a Sunday afternoon outdoor meal. "Do you enjoy to cook out?" he asked cheerfully, before launching a few other interested-but-not-intrusive questions. The prices for groceries at this store are in my experience a lot lower than at other stores in Fairfax County, and one anticipates a bit of customer-service hardship in exchange for the bargains. My cashier is, I am sure, paid the going rate of grocery store cashiers, which cannot be making him rich. But, as he handed me the receipt and wished me "Have a good barbeque!" he clearly was recognizing me not as another carbon life form behind an overly full grocery cart, but as a human being. Low price, high value.

As I contemplate how best to deliver value to our clients and clients-to-be, I will think about Nathan and the now-anonymous clerk at the discount grocer. As a large and established full-service firm with a diversity of legal and business resources for our clients, Womble Carlyle has the ability to deliver rocket-science law at a high price and high value. We also have the ability to deliver commodity law at a low price and high value. The market needs both....and everything in between. It's up to us to understand with great precision what a particular client needs and wants -- and then deliver it, just as two sellers who recently crossed my path did with me.

-Steve Bell

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