Archive | September, 2009

Knowledge, meaning and “I just want my visa”

28 Sep

I found a recent article in the Globe and Mail Globe & Mail on Saturday (12 September, 2009, page A21) entitled, “Information-rich and attention poor” by Peter Nicholson  of great interest. It’s worth a read.

I also found the comments of Susan Swan, a lawyer who posts on Slaw (one of the sites I tend to visit frequently), interesting.

My comments are more about being “data/information rich and knowledge/meaning poor”.

In my practice over the past 17 years I have found a marked increase in clients who are knowledgeable about the Canadian immigration process. When I started in 1992, the internet was still in it’s infancy and the ability to acquire basic knowledge about the Canadian immigration process was difficult. As an Applicant you had to make phone calls or know someone who knew the steps (i.e., lawyers).

Now Citizenship and Immigration Canada hosts one of the governments most visited websites

The “problem” from a practitioner perspective is that the ability to access information now results in clients who want, not a basic level of information, but “meaning”. They want to know how to take the knowledge or data they have gleaned over the internet, and turn it into a successful visa application. Since they were able to gather the initial knowledge for free, there is an expectation that “meaning” will also be for free. But the “meaning” is not for free; I have gained my expertise in this area of law, at some cost, after many years and am reluctant to give it away. The expectation from many client’s who are used to quick and free fulfillment of their information need, is that the knowledge should be given to them for free.

So, how to solve this problem?

I have taken the approach of being up front with potential clients about what I can give them for free and what they should expect to pay for (i.e., a paid consultation or a retainer to provide them legal services). I have also tried to explain to them that the meaning they seek from me is on a continuum. If all they seek is a basic visitor permit or student permit or if they are highly skilled at dealing with bureaucracy, they may not need my services at all. But if they need something more complex or if the matter involves litigation (such as an appeal hearing or a refugee hearing or a matter before the Federal Court of Canada), they will need my services or the services of someone like me.

I also prepared basic explanations entitled “More than just filling out forms” and “Why hire us” and put them at the front of my website to make what I do more explicit.

In this sense, the client chooses but the client does not always understand what they are choosing and why it has a value. The value proposition, for some clients makes itself apparent not at the retainer stage but much later, when they see what experienced legal counsel can do for them and they have an “a ha” moment. I wait for such moments.

Monetizing, a word I dislike, the knowledge I have or my ability to create meaning for my client, is a constant challenge in this time of much data, little attention span and unreasonable expectations. Explaining what I do and setting reasonable expectations, is an approach that works for me.


And so it begins…

25 Sep

I enter the world of blogging with some trepidation.  All too often I see material on blogs that makes me cringe.

In my blog I want to explore topics related to Canadian Immigration/ Refugee/ Citizenship law, migration law in general in the world, the practice of law, and the intersections of art/race/culture. A broad list, but it should be fun to explore these topics and seek comments. Wish me luck!