In this week’s edition of Things I Wish I Knew, solo lawyer Joleena Louis tackles how to handle the often awkward money conversion.
A common issue I hear from other lawyers is that they find it difficult to get paid. In my experience, combating this issues starts before you are even hired by the potential client.
By being upfront about your fees and how you expect to be paid, it’s easier to manage clients expectations and weed out potential clients who will have a problem paying down the line.
Know Your Value
The biggest mistake newer solos make is not being sure of their fees. If you are not confident about the fee you are quoting then the client is going to try to negotiate with you.
If a client is interested and can afford you they will make it happen. If not, then they are probably not a good fit for your practice.
So here is my tip, simply state your rate with confidence. Don’t explain it, just state it matter of factly. If they ask for a discount, state your rates are firm and you don’t offer discounts. For me, 95% of the time potential clients will still retain me if I decline to give a discount. Some won’t retain me right away, but will come back later. Some never come back and that’s okay. They probably were not going to pay anyway.
I know many attorneys will disagree with me here, but I truly believe you should be fully transparent about your fees and payment policies.
If someone calls and asks for my rates I will give them the minimum rate I charge for a certain type of case, with the disclaimer that it may be higher depending on the specifics of their case. Here is an example of a script I use for when that situation comes up, “My fee for Child Support cases start at $X and go up depending on specific issues. After the consultation, I will be able to give you a more accurate amount.”
That way if there is absolutely no way they can come up with that minimum fee, neither one of us wastes our time. Many lawyers believe you should get people in to “sell” your value. But no amount of selling myself is going to enable someone with no financial resources to afford my fee.
I also find that if people have some idea of how much it’s going to cost, they show up to the consult ready to pay.
Finally, I think it’s very important to be clear about your fee policy at the consult. I have it in my retainer agreement and I go over it at the consultation. I tell them exactly how I expect to be paid and what happens if they do not pay. That way we are all on the same page going forward.
Leave Out Emotion
As a family law attorney, I deal with potential clients who often have compelling stories that tug at the heartstrings. I find it much easier to stick to my guns regarding fees when I leave emotion out of fee discussions. I am running a business and I have to pay my bills.
I do pro bono and low bono cases, but they are done on my own terms. I will only handle one pro bono case at a time and only cases referred from certain agencies. Knowing that I have parameters for these type of cases makes it easier to say no to those outside of those parameters.
The money talk can be awkward, but it’s part of being a business owner. Learning how to master it early on in your practice can help you ensure the clients who retain you are going to pay what you are worth.