These conversations are not the easiest part of the legal profession and they may be more or less difficult depending upon where you are in your legal career. Lawyers that are building their reputation and clientele are more interested in getting the work than turning it away because their fee is considered too high. But there is a happy medium to strike, and there are definitely ways to have these conversations in a productive and professional manner. Following some of the suggestions below will help you establish the correct balance and keep your firm headed in the right direction.
Explaining Your Fees
It's a terrible idea to slip the fees into the representation agreement, and never say a word about them. There's nothing worse for a client than to get an invoice with an astronomical amount of money charged that was unexpected. On the other hand, lawyers need to expect most clients to ask pointed questions about how much representation will cost them. It's far better for you to proactively drive this conversation than to be playing defensively. The best way to justify the way your fees are structured is to first prove that you are going to provide the highest level of service available. Setting their mind at ease that you can handle their needs will make them realize that you are worth the fee. Your explanation will also need to include a realistic expectation of what your expenses will be (research, expert testimony or consultation, travel, etc.)
Examples of Success
Part of your fee explanation should include your level of experience and even an example or two of successful cases (minus specific details that are confidential). When they see what you have been able to do for other clients in similar circumstances they will feel much more at ease. For many clients, the use of a lawyers seems to be a gamble on their part. They want to know that they are making the safest "bet" possible when they write the check for their fees.
Dealing with Discount Seekers
Perhaps the most important way to discuss client fees is to be confident when you talk about what you charge. If you seem apologetic when stating your fee, you'll most definitely have to deal with a request for a discount. Don't pick a number out of thin air. Make it a calculated amount based upon research, your experience, your costs and your average billable hours worked, all of which you should be able find in your Practice Management System. If you start discounting fees for clients, you will be asked to do the same for everyone. According to the American Bar Association one suggestion for clients looking to minimise fees is for the client to provide full and detailed information upfront. If the whole (and accurate) story isn't known right away, lawyers will have to spend more billable time to uncover the necessary facts to provide the best representation. Assure your clients that you will not over bill and will keep billable hours to only what is necessary. If you find that the client doesn't seem to understand why the fee is so high, you'll want to explain the fees in more detail.
The bottom line when discussing your fee structure is to be detailed, clear and unapologetic. Make sure your client sees that your fees will bring them value through solid and expert legal representation. At the end of the day, their experience should be positive whether they retain your services or not.
Other Tough Conversations
Running your own law firm is a difficult thing and you never know what will come up that will effect it. The world is currently a perfect example of that. You've got to be willing to be open and honest with your clients to put their minds at ease. The faster you inform your client of what is happening and how it will effect them, the more likely you are to remain in their good books.