Law firms and wineries have little in common. Well, except that many attorneys I know take pleasure in a glass of fine wine from time to time. Some even keep an amazing cellar. I know one lawyer that actually purchased a winery in Spain! But in business terms, their models are fundamentally disparate—law firms bill by the hour; wineries bill by the bottle. Law firms deliver services; wineries deliver product. Etcetera and etcetera. Yet, the other day when I landed upon an article by Steve Heimoff, the California Editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine writing about how the recession has created a need for California wineries to “reshuffle the deck,” the similarities between the two were glaring. Post-recession wineries and post recession law firms who (a) survived the U.S. economic down turn, now (b) need to work hard at learning the new rules. In Steve’s words:
“California wineries should realize that it’s time to reshuffle the deck. Whatever the plan was before the recession, the economic downturn changed the rules.”
Spoiler Alert: As I read the article I just couldn’t help myself from substituting the word “law firms” wherever Steve used the word wineries. Yes, his straightforward observations really resonated with me and I think they will resonate with you, too—as affirmation, encouragement, advice, or something you’ll share with us in the comments. I’ve excerpted some of Steve’s observations and advice here, giving him full credit and thanks for organizing some simple truths in such a useful way. (And a big plug for and shout out to Wine Enthusiast magazine where there’s more than wine inside…food and travel, interviews, ideas for entertaining, and yes, advice for law firms!)
[Note: I am using words familiar to the legal profession inserted with parentheses as my own point of view so as not to create a derivative work. I’ve only excerpted the parts that I think valuable to the discussion here. All copy belongs to Steve Heimoff. Read the article: "Advice to the Greedy: It's Not Time To Raise Prices," here.]
Advice to the Greedy: It’s Not Time to Raise Prices
By Steve Heimoff [and Jayne Navarre ]
“Now that the recession appears to be ending, Americans [businesses] might be in a mood to spend a little more on wine [legal services] than they did during the worst years of the slump, from 2009-11.”
“The conventional wisdom then was that people were still drinking [buying legal services], but were spending less. The person who previously paid $15 [$550] for a bottle of wine [hour of legal services] was willing to spring only for $10 [$250], or less. Even the cult wine collectors [large corporations] scaled back—winery owners in Napa Valley [general counsel] admitted as much.”
“If consumers are starting to spend again, what does this mean for the domestic wine industry [small and mid-size law firms], California wineries [BIGLAW] in particular, which still supply the majority of wine [legal services] that Americans [general counsel] drink [purchase]? It means they should develop a new game plan.”
“Winery owners [law firms] should dismiss the temptation to raise prices. Asking for a few more bucks may seem reasonable. But it would be a mistake.
“That new slice of the drinking [corporate] population—Millennials—is said to be open-minded, not particularly brand-loyal when it comes to alcoholic beverages [law firms], and willing to try anything if their friends recommend it.
“Their parents may have grown up drinking [using] California wine [BIGLAW], but Millennials have no special devotion to it. As a recent Wine Market Council [fill in the blank] report indicated, older Boomers have become settled in their purchasing habits, while Millennials are much more adventurous.”
“I know, from my relationships with winery [law firm] owners and managers, that they’re frustrated. They sense that things have changed and will continue to change, but they don’t know what to do. They’re bombarded with advice from all sides, much of it conflicting.
“Jump into social media. Don’t waste your time with social media. Experiment with different kinds of wines [practices]. Don’t risk tinkering with weirdo varieties. Be a leader. Follow the markets. Redesign your brand for a younger demographic. Don’t muddle your image.
“It’s no wonder that public relations firms, media consultants and branding experts are in such demand. Winery owners [law firm partners], increasingly confused, are turning to them in sheer desperation.”
“…instead of viewing this as an unwelcome hassle, wineries [law firms] should see it as an opportunity. So here’s my advice [and the VMO's too!]:
“Watch your prices. This simply isn’t the time to seek increases, particularly after 2012’s record crush [acquisition of laterals], which will make California wines [BIG LAW] more available than ever.”
“Be honest about your wines’ [services’] price-quality ratio. An $8 [$250] bottle [hour] should offer at least $8 [$250] worth of value. …Unfortunately, too many California wines [BIGLAW services] remain overpriced. Ultimately, being too expensive for the quality will come back to bite you.”
“Don’t break your back trying to do it all. A little Twitter, a little Facebook or whatever can’t hurt. Do whatever degree of social media feels comfortable. But every winery [law firm] should definitely keep its Web site up to date. I’m repeatedly shocked at how poorly maintained some sites are, combining out-of-date vintages [images and style] with an overall lack of information.” (Emphasis added by the VMO)
“Showcase your wine [partners]. Working through regional winery [law] and vintners [business] associations, pour [speak or attend] at events like Rhone Rangers [fill in the blank], Family Winemakers, World of Pinot Noir, Paso CAB Collective, The Chardonnay Symposium and so on. Get your wine [practices] and winemaker [partners, associates, and business development professionals] out there for face time. You can’t hide under a bush and expect the world to discover you.”