Effective Solutions From Creative LawyersPosted May 29, 2013 by Articles & Publications, The Law and Other Musings in
"Effective Solutions From Creative Lawyers." That's the motto of our law firm, Press, Dozier & Hamelburg, LLC, and we really try to live up to that message. But do our clients and potential clients view us that way?
Earlier this week, the "LinkedIn Today" section of linkedin.com excerpted an article from legalweek.com, which is a British website geared to English solicitors ( i.e., the non-litigating part of the British bar). The full article, "Law firms missing out on SME work over cost concerns, LSB study finds," states that,
"More than half of small businesses are handling their own legal matters amid widespread
concerns about the value for money offered by law firms...Only 13% of respondents to the
survey believed that lawyers offer a cost-effective method of resolving legal issues, despite
more than one third (38%) acknowledging that they had faced a significant legal problem
over the last 12 months, of which almost half (45%) resulted in a negative financial impact."
Although the article addresses the problems faced by British law firms, it is equally applicable to American firms. The study referenced in the article found that clients perceive that fees based on hourly rates didn't reflect the commercial value of the attorney's work product and that each new assignment involved continuously re-inventing the same wheel.
Perhaps worse for lawyers, small and medium-sized business clients "lack a relationship of trust with a commercially minded solicitor who they can turn to at short notice to receive succinct advice on an ad hoc basis."
So, there are, apparently, two distinct problems, fees and lack of trust.
As for addressing fees, lawyers need to rethink their billing structure. Fixed and not-to-exceed fee structures are two ways to do this. The risk, of course, is that the attorney under-estimates the time it will take to perform a given assignment and comes out on the short end of the stick. Presumably, with experience, most lawyers learn how long it takes to perform a specific task. The experienced lawyer knows that it generally takes X hours to review a lease or draft a non-disturbance agreement. And it is not unfair for the lawyer offering a fixed or not-to-exceed fee to carve out exceptions. For example, it will take me X hours to draft a lease, review the opposing lawyer's comments and revise the lease; however, if the other side wants to engage in lease negotiations, then the lawyer should be able to increase the fixed or not-to-exceed fee accordingly - perhaps on a sliding discounted scale.
The second problem is, in a way, easier to address. Many lawyers, when speaking to or on behalf of the client, use terms such as "we" and "us," not "you" and "the client." That suggests to the client that the client's problems are the lawyer's problems and that the two have an identity of interest in coming up with a satisfactory solution.
Another way to establish trust is for the lawyer to initiate "just checking in" contact with his clients. All too often, the lawyer only speaks with the client when the latter initiates the contact - which is generally associated with a problem or new task. A quarterly visit or phone call - at no charge to the client - that has as its agenda nothing other than to find out how things are going, reminds the client that you are there for them when they need you - and is interested in the client and the client's success.
It's like checking in with your friends. If nothing else, it keeps the relationship strong. Keeping good relationships with our clients enables us to better understand their issues without the pressure of a "legal problem."
Press, Dozier & Hamelburg partners with businesses to achieve their goals, and represents families and individuals, often when they are most vulnerable. Our attorneys deliver valuable insight and counsel in the areas of business law, employment law, litigation, commercial real estate, estate planning and administration, and business succession planning. We provide all of our clients with personal service, emphasizing responsiveness, sensitivity, and respect. We are located in Bethesda and serve Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC.