Lawyers are often times uncomfortable discussing their fees with clients. But if there is no upfront transparency regarding money matters, there can be a miscommunication of pricing expectations between the lawyer and his/her client.
This can often result in the cessation of the client-lawyer relationship. The client may pay the invoice and then drop out of sight, or worse, drop out of sight without paying the invoice.
Lawyers need to change the way they communicate with their clients regarding professional fees and present their final invoice. Here are three useful tips to keep in mind:
Tip 1: Establish Clear and Realistic Expectations
It is essential for attorneys to establish clear expectations regarding their fee structure, how time is computed (in case of hourly billing), and how often an invoice will be sent. It is a given that pricing is in the back of the mind of every client, regardless of whether they raise the issue or not. Discussing money matters early on in the representation can help put both the attorney and client at ease.
It is crucial to raise the fee issue in the initial consultation instead of side-stepping it or reserving it for the engagement letter. It is best to explain the pricing philosophy upfront, which allows clients to understand clearly how much they should expect to spend under various scenarios.
Being upfront and explaining the fee process in person gives clients the necessary opportunity to ask further questions or explore other alternatives.
In cases where lawyers can’t quote their total legal fees, it is best to estimate (realistically on the high side) the minimum amount and promise to inform about any further developments.
Tip 2: Promptly Communicate Unexpected Developments
Typically, clients tend to rely on established expectations unless otherwise stated. It’s critical to let clients know about unexpected developments immediately before any additional work is done to maintain their expectations.
It is best in such situations to explain the development to the client and the resultant increase in fee. This can go a long way in preventing unpleasant billing surprises and may even help retain the client.
Tip 3: Invoices Must Show True Representation Value
While generating invoices, it is best to show clients that they are getting their money’s worth. Lawyers must include everything they have achieved and done during the representation. It is better to add too much rather than too little.
Poorly-worded invoices tend to make clients feel over-charged, which results in dissatisfaction. Details regarding preparations, revisions, and reviews help a client get a better picture of the work involved. Just like anyone else, clients want to feel that they are not getting overcharged and that they are getting a fair value from their attorneys.
The final invoice doesn’t have to be inflated because all services rendered are quoted in it. There can always be discounts applied to adjust the final amount. This allows clients to feel appreciative of the work carried out by the attorneys and their team without having to pay anything in addition.
As with most things in the business of law, transparency and candor will go a long way in establishing a mutually beneficial relationship between attorneys and their clients.