WHEN AND HOW TO DISCUSS LEGAL FEES WITH A POTENTIAL CLIENT
Money - the necessary evil no matter what you are doing or talking about. Clients are more cost-conscious than ever about legal fees and costs, including corporations whom we have all always thought of as the “deep pocket”. Of primary importance during a consultation with a new client, and truly throughout the attorney/client relationship, is to make sure that the client understands that they are in a better position because of your services than they would have been without having retained you.
So now your marketing strategy has paid off and a new potential has turned into a client consultation. If it is a personal injury case, fees are not an issue. The Florida Supreme court has set the guidelines on fees, so nothing to discuss. All firms charge the same contingency percentage, unless a firm reduces their percentage because they want to be competitive.
The case that is going to be an hourly or flat fee is where things can get sticky when the discussion of fees arises, and it is often the decision maker or breaker for the client.
I recently talked to a client of mine who said that he never brings up the issue of money, because the client usually brings it up at the very end of the consultation. The question usually goes like this, “ok so how much will all this cost me?”
I know many lawyers have had clients cut short and leave a consultation as soon as the subject of hourly rates and retainers came up. This is the main reason that it is really a good idea to put off that discussion until the end of the consultation. Why?
The consultation is your opportunity to make a connection with the client. If you do not believe that the chemistry between you and a client is important, you are mistaken. Listen to the issues that brought the client to the office. Let the client explain their problem or situation, and ask questions that show that you are tuned in, paying attention and that you want to know everything that is pertinent to their situation.
After the client has given you all the pertinent facts, repeat back in a brief synopsis what you heard to make sure you have all the information correct. Allow the client to interrupt if the facts are not accurate. You cannot advise a client or quote a fee if you do not have all the information you need.
At this point in the initial consultation, it is your turn to explain the value of the service that you are going to provide to the client to help them with their situation. This explanation of service will justify the hourly rate and retainer fee you will request from the client near the conclusion of the initial consultation when the conversation moves to fees and costs. It is important that the client understands the value of your services.
Make sure the client understands the fees before they retain your services. This is not only a professional responsibility but it will ensure that you have a satisfied client throughout the representation.
Never promise a client that you will recover legal fees from the opposing party, even if your client prevails. This will only set up your client to expect that their legal fees will be reimbursed and in the more likely event of no attorney’s fees from the non-prevailing party, your client will be upset.
During attorney/client relationship, make sure to assess your client’s satisfaction with your representation. Be sure to send monthly bills outlining the services rendered and charges for each. Keep the client informed as to any fee balance that remains on retainer, so a request for replenishment does not come as a surprise. Sometimes the request for a replenishment retainer, if not expected, will send the client off to interview and possibly retain another attorney. The client will pay a new retainer to another attorney, even if it is the same amount as the replenishment you requested. It is obviously not about the money, it is about the relationship and the breakdown in communication.
The changes in the economy have affected everyone, including potential clients. Keep in mind that if you show the client you are offering them the value of your time and how this will benefit them, the discussion regarding fees will more often than not result in the new potential signing on with the firm as a new client.
If you need some coaching on signing on potentials as new clients, or any other aspect of managing the business of practicing law®, please contact me at 813-340-9569. Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.