September 05 2018

How Can Lawyers Best Discuss Fees with Clients?

LawMaster Marketing

Invoicing Guilt

Some lawyers are victims of internal punishment and suffer from what one member of the profession calls "invoicing guilt" especially when clients balk at the amount. How can a lawyer overcome invoicing guilt, especially if their fees are really reflective of the work they put into the case?

Many lawyers are prone to guilt which can get in the way of their business. A few years ago, Brian Clarke of the Charlotte School of Law wrote a piece entitled, "How I Almost Became Another Lawyer Who Killed Himself." He quotes Patrick Krill, a well-known lawyer and counselor, who said, "lawyers are both the guardians of your most precious liberties and the butts of your harshest jokes..." Being in that position of doing work that is profoundly worthy and being "both a hero and a villain in our cultural imagination" lines lawyers up for guilt.

As is the case with many professions, the law part of the work is usually enjoyable for a lawyer. It's the business side of the practice, the non-billable side, that causes the greatest misery. Finding clients, keeping dozens or hundreds of cases straight, getting everything done to as near perfection as possible and on time is a constant challenge. The fear of letting one of those balls drop can be terrifying. Then there is the heavy emotional burden of losing a case, a frightening inevitability sometimes. The informal pressures, not the formal ones,  bring in guilt and guilt impacts the way a lawyer sees their fees.

Objectify Your Worth

The outside world in the form of numerous legal discussions through the years (not your provide musings) have helped to define a "fair fee" for legal services. High fees demanded by many recent law graduates mean that "fair" does not necessarily mean cheap.

To make price negotiations simple in certain kinds of cases, usually compensation, motor vehicle cases, or other insurance-related cases where winning the case means the client receives a financial payout, lawyers will bill on a contingency basis. Many clients will accept billing as a percentage of the award without much question.

Some cases are best billed as a straight fee-for-service with a fee schedule. Wills, real estate conveyances, and incorporations can be billed on a menu. However, there must always be the understanding that if the situation gets complicated, additional costs will be billed by the hour. Billable hours must be carefully tabulated and a fixed hourly rate applied.

Many legal services are billed by the hour, with the hourly rate fixed by the seniority of the lawyer. What time is considered billable and what time is a matter of some delicacy. You can only bill the client for the time which you can defend as relatable directly to his or her matter. Time devoted to the law firm as a whole cannot be billable. Usually, lawyers account for their billable hours in tenths of an hour (6-minute increments). If a relevant telephone call took 12 minutes, that should count as .2 and fees for that time would be .2 X your hourly rate. 

LawMaster's integrated time-sheeting functionality allows for intelligent management of your billable times for any given matter. To find out how LawMaster's intuitive Legal Practice Management software can upgrade the efficiency of your Legal Practice contact us today.