How are dentists like lawyers? Read on, you’ll get my take on the question.

As you are reading this blog, I will be sitting in the chair at my favorite periodontist getting my second surgical implant done, and hoping I won’t need the pain pills he prescribed that I declined.

A few years ago, a young lawyer I was coaching at the time and I met with Tyler, an associate who had worked for me. When Tyler’s wife became a permanent federal appeals court clerk in Kansas City, Tyler left our firm and went in house with a large construction company.

During the conversation the associate asked Tyler a very interesting question:

What do you know now that you wished you had known when you were practicing law with Cordell?

Tyler’s answer took me by surprise. He replied:

Even when you do a really great job handling a litigation matter, your in-house counsel will still not be happy. It is just the nature of litigation.

I’ve spent more time in my life than I would have ever wanted seated in dental chairs.

It all started with braces, then getting two of my teeth loosened beyond repair in a football practice, without pads or helmets. Our fullback went the wrong way and the crown of his head found my mouth.

That, of course, made them look dark when the braces came off and that’s when the serious dental work started. I like to tell my friends that I could own at least one Mercedes Benz or BMW car for the amount of money I’ve paid to dentists.

I believe dentists, thankfully not mine, can give you a greater understanding of Tyler’s point. No one get’s up in the morning and says:

Oh boy, I get to visit my dentist this morning.

I know I didn’t say that this morning. Even when they do a great job with your teeth, you hate paying them.

Some dentists, again thankfully not mine, want feedback. I saw a question one time, with ratings from 1-10.

How happy are you with your smile and the whiteness of your teeth?

I don’t know about you, but if I had responded with anything other than “damn happy,” I’d probably not return to that dentist.

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Questions:

  • Does your dental hygienist tell you that you are not flossing enough, or you aren’t doing it right?
  • Does your dentist discuss your “treatment plan” without ever telling you the cost of the treatment plan?
  • Instead, when you are taken aback by the extent of your “treatment plan” are you then turned over to a “treatment coordinator?” Yes, she’s the one who shields the dentist from telling you the bad news that your treatment plan will cost more than you ever dreamed possible.

If you need substantial treatment, do you feel like you are giving up control of your mouth and pocketbook to professionals you may not really know? (I’ve had work done by a dentist who was not very good. It cost even more to fix his mistakes.)

Aren’t there about 1oo other ways you’d rather be spending the money?

The truth is your clients feel the same way, only for you it is likely worse. You are like the dental hygienist telling your client they didn’t do something right. You are like the dentist telling your client how you can fix the problem. Then, you are like the “treatment coordinator” telling the client it will cost an arm and a leg and be money they would rather spend on at least 1oo other things.

No one gets up in the morning and says:

Oh boy, I get to see my lawyer today.”

Tyler was right. Your clients hate the cost, hate the time it takes, hate the uncertainty and fear they may not have the best lawyer for the job.

One final thought: I recommend that you never tell a client: “If only you had not…” 

When business clients need a lawyer, they seek help. When business clients do not need a lawyer, that does not mean you should do nothing to attract those potential clients. I attracted those clients and you can also.

Five years ago Seth Godin addressed this question in the context of dentists in his blog: My tooth doesn’t hurt. He suggested:

  1. Figure out a cost-effective way to be there. A way to gently be in my face so that when my toothache shows up (in whatever form that takes) you’re the obvious choice.
  2. Create new products and services that build engagement and possibly revenue among members of the population that aren’t in pain. That, of course, is why teeth whitening services are so smart. You can sell to people who didn’t know they had a problem until they met you.

Watch this Youtube video where David Meerman Scott talks about Boston Dentist: Helaine Smith, who created an e-book.

Dentistry is not much different than law. No one gets up in the morning and says: “Oh boy I get to visit my dentist today.” And, as Seth Godin points out, potential patients do not reach out to dentists when their teeth are fine.

At some point, a business with a legal issue that has not hired a lawyer will do a Google search of the legal issue. You want to be the lawyer the potential client finds. You can increase your chances by blogging, creating guides, and putting your presentations on Slideshare.

I spent a career creating what Seth Godin describes as “new products” and services. How did I do it? How can you follow my model? I tried to figure out potential future legal issues and then I wrote articles (would be blog posts today) and gave presentations.

To get an example of what I did, read this article: Legal Issues in Design-Build Construction that an associate in my old law firm wrote about workshops on Design-Build that I was doing at the time. Or, take a look at my article: Design-build: evaluation and award. Both the workshops and the article led to me being hired to work on Design-Build projects.

If I was able to attract clients who did not have a legal problem at the time, you can also. Give it a try.