Jay Shepherd’s Epiphany

Regular readers of VeraSage know that we are all enormous fans of Jay Shepherd, founder of Shepherd Law Group, blogger at The Client Revolution and Gruntled Employees, VeraSage Trailblazer, and (I’m honored to say) author of the Foreword to my forthcoming book, Implementing Value Pricing: A Radical Business Model for Professional Firms.

At the beginning of the month, Jay sent me a thought-provoking email that he has graciously given me permission to share.

Needless to say, when the subject line reads “a mental breakthrough” from a thinker such as Jay, you have my undivided attention.

Hey, Ron,

I was just reviewing Chapter 16 of your manuscript. (Love it.) This weekend, I had a mental breakthrough that really originated in part from something you’ve been saying for quite some time. Let me explain:

First, in early May, I was blown away by Simon Sinek’s TED talk on starting with why. (I think I forwarded the video to you.) I found the Start With Why concept a game-changer. I immediately downloaded the book [Start With Why].

Coincidentally, I was at the same time reading Switch by the Heath Brothers. (So I was delighted when I saw your Verasage meeting reading list.) For the past three months, I’ve been struggling to figure out what my and my firm’s “why” was.

At long last, I think I finally found it.

My “why” is “to fix the practice of law.” My firm’s “why” is “to innovate (in fixing the practice of law).” Everything we do, everything we’re about is grounded in relentlessly innovating. Looking back, that’s the message of both my blogs—The Client Revolution and Gruntled Employees.

Fixed prices is just a “how,” under Sinek’s framework. I’ve been making the same mistake that TiVo made—selling the “how” instead of the “why.”

Fixed prices is an important “how” for us, but it’s not the only one, and it’s not the thing that’s going to make companies bang down the door to sign up with us.

But if we instead focus on the “why,” it not only helps us stay on message in our marketing, but it also identifies whom we want to market to. Innovators. To paraphrase Sinek: “If you’re the kind of company that’s all about innovation, boy, have we got a law firm for you.”

And bringing it back to Chapter 16: I once wrote a post or article or something (could have been an SPU [Solo Practice University] gig) in which I mentioned that law firms didn’t really start using hourly billing until the 1950s or ’60s. My point had been to challenge the notion that hourly billing has “always been the norm.”

In a comment, you pointed out the research that you discuss in Chapter 16 of IVP: that law-firm hourly billing was started in 1919. Since that didn’t really mesh with my point, I’ve kind of ignored that fact. But now, suddenly, I get it.

“If you’re the kind of company who’s all about innovation, why are you using a law firm whose billing model was invented in 1919?”

I think this was the point that I was missing: that hourly billing is antiquated. I’m going to start incorporating this notion in my writing and marketing right away.

As always, much thanks for your great work. Hope your summer’s going well.

Best regards,


We are defined by what we believe, not what we know

Jay’s breakthrough is absolutely correct. Value Pricing is merely part of a larger change in business models, which is driven by a firm’s strategy and positioning, which ultimately is driven by a firm’s “why” (or purpose, if you prefer).

Innovation is crucial, which is the point of my Great Moderates in History? post.

At the end of World War II, English writer and prominent socialist H.G. Wells wrote:

Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Wells was a socialist who believed knowledge alone would create a more peaceful world.

But surely before they became the aggressors in World War II, the German people were among the best educated in the world—with their universities to become the model for America’s—and the Japanese among the most literate.

For as valuable as knowledge and education are, it is imperative to bear in mind that man is guided far more by his beliefs than his knowledge.

How else does one begin to explain why people fly airplanes into buildings full of innocent people?

In a business context, this is Simon Sinek’s point when he says “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Rabbi Daniel Lapin makes this point quite cogently in his book, Thou Shall Prosper, helping his readers understand how the world really works:

You are best understood and appraised by others on the basis of the things you believe rather than on the basis of the things you know.

For example, during the twentieth century, Jews again learned the importance of this principle. They learned that what the Germans of the Third Reich believed was far more important a guide to their actions than the things they knew. After all, Germany was a society whose universities had produced the world’s most accomplished scientists, like Max Planck, and great philosophers, like George Hegel.

Germany was a society that had produced writers like Heinrich Heine and musicians like Ludwig van Beethoven. Nonetheless, it was their beliefs about a superrace and the genetic inferiority of Jews—beliefs that had little to do with facts&mdashthat won they day and changed the course of history.

Most of the really important adventures on which you embark depend on belief and faith. For instance, when you marry, you seldom do so on the basis of incontrovertible facts: You don’t walk down the aisle knowing for certain that you are going to live happily ever after in a state of permanently wedded bliss. And you don’t enter the state of matrimony knowing everything there is to know about your spouse. You marry on the basis of belief and faith.

…For an entrepreneur, starting a business far more closely resembles marriage…Faith is key (Lapin, page 183).

Indeed, all enterprise is an act of faith, a faith in the future, faith in the ability to humble yourself before others and solve their problems, create real value, investing in an unknown future where predetermined returns are uncertain—supplying before you can demand.

Hence, all organizations are built and operated on a worldview—what Peter Drucker called “The Theory of the Business.”

We are ruled by are theories and worldviews far more than we are willing to admit.

Accumulated knowledge certainly guides this theory, but ultimately any business is a leap into the unknown future.

This is what George Gilder means when he says “Knowledge is about the past; entrepreneurship is about the future.”

Ed Kless and I have been having discussion recently about our “why,” and it’s not an easy question. Take a look at what Ed believes, from his blog:

I believe that small business is where the vast majority of the wealth of the world is created. I help small professional businesses recognize that they do this through developing and sharing their knowledge. It is a great model. Do you want to know more?

I founded VeraSage, along with Dan Morris and Justin Barnett, to bury the billable hour and timesheets in professional firms, which is not a bad “what,” but it doesn’t answer why?

Well, because I believe that the time accounting regime is a servant that has transmogrified into a tyrannical master that lessens wealth-creation and service to others, humiliating and denigrating the dignity of knowledge workers everywhere.

The VeraSage Declaration of Independence is my verbose “why.”

Your Why should start with “I believe…”

We’d love to hear your “Why,” and have the opportunity, like with Jay, to post your mental breakthrough.


  1. Jay, we’re not worthy!

  2. John,

    Shouldn’t that be, “Jay, I believe we’re not worthy!?”

  3. Right on! Jay’s comments are the single most valuable piece of marketing advice I’ve ever read.

  4. Matthew Tol says:

    Having seen Sinek’s presentation, I have shared it with my team and with a number of our customers (and potential customers). The understanding of “why” is imperative for ongoing success in what you do across all facets of your life. Business is only a small component of it.

    The development of the “why” requires some pretty heavy-duty thinking about what is the rationale behind your “life choice”. So far in my career I have encountered a lot of people (professionals, business owners, managers, workers, house wives/husbands etc etc etc) who are doing what they do because it is what they’ve always done. If they had done the “why” thinking, they may well be in a situation where they approach things differently – this may well lead to a decrease in the incidence of depression, family breakdown and the like.

    I understand that I am drawing a bit of a long bow here, but believe that the approach is worthy as the “why” is a profound issue that too few people understand.

    Well done Jay!

  5. Ron/Jay. I’m a great fan of your blogs and what you are doing. I had my Jerry Maguire moment two years ago. Why is just so fundamental. I work in the world of IP services and am trying to do my bit in that field in Europe.

    Many do not understand the key distinction between a trademark and a brand. Apple (referred to by Sinek) is a good example of a brand. That’s kind of what Sinek is developing in this book but extending it taking the concept and understanding much further. I read his book (Jay’s influence) along with Drive by Daniel Pink during my recent vacation in Florida. There is great synergy here with these works.

    One of the key things I picked up from Drive is that extrinsic motivators like money target rewards (trad law firm approach) do not motivate….they actually demotivate. Drive also focuses heavily on autonomy (sadly lacking in many Law firms) as part of the package required for effective motivation and quality outputs. He calls what is needed, a new motivation operating system, Motivation 3.0.

    I think starting with why and also working on the intrinsic motivators such as autonomy and others in Motivation 3.0 could produce a paradigm shift in how we in the service sector operate and in what we can deliver ?with? our clients.

    My major concern has never been the billing model per se. My concern has been that the traditional billing approach, and very importantly the modus operandi it instils, seriously limits and constrains what can actually be achieved jointly with clients and is not fulfilling for many. The whole interaction model is one big demotivating and ineffective experience. You can’t do what you need/want to do.

    We need Why and Motivation 3.0. I’m trying to work through the Why (I’m probably coming close to what Jay is looking at) and to get past the how in order to focus on the fundamental question of intrinsic needs/motivators. Client and provider needs. What motivates both. In a sense the why is a bigger why…it?s a shared why with the clients and in my case wider stakeholders in the area of IP. It?s like wrestling with a family of angry Gorillas!

    Keep the Epiphanies coming Jay!

    PS Ron your Tweet about the Marque Law firm in Australia has been as useful to me as reading Starting with Why and Drive! A great motivator!

  6. Hi Nick,

    Thank you for your thought-provoking comment, which I totally agree with.

    Intrinsic rewards are so much more powerful than extrinsic, especially for knowledge workers. This is why we like the High Satisfaction Day (HSD) KPI so much.

    And your larger point goes to our idea of transforming from a Professional Service Firm (PSF) to a Professional Knowledge Firm (PKF).

    Not only is this a different business model–from “we sell time” to “we sell intellectual capital”–it’s also a totally different “why” (or purpose).

    Ed Kless and I just taught a Firm of the Future Symposium where we discussed all these issues (and more), and it was exhilarating, not to mention liberating. It opens up so many more possibilities to create value than merely offering services and billing time.

    And I’m glad you liked the Marque article. It is a firm that clearly understands its “why.” They are awe-inspiring.

    Thanks for contributing and I look forward to hearing more from you.


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