Justifying your Fee

Does your potential client know why you are worth what you charge?

This may sound ridiculous, but do you know what you spend most of your working days doing? At one level, you might feel that this question grossly insults your intellect and your memory as well as your professionalism. So why do I ask?

Well, the obvious is not what I mean. For someone to want to buy your services, they need to know and understand what you do. I have had potential and actual clients like the look of me and then ask me to do things of which I have no experience at all, simply because I matched some preconceived notion they had of an accountant.

Let us assume you meet the Managing Director of a medium-sized corporate. You are a litigator. He says, “What do you do?” It is your big opportunity to open the door to billing heaven. You draw in a breath and say, “I’m a litigator”, or perhaps, to more enlightened souls, that you work in dispute resolution. The MD looks interested and then moves on to the weather. No problem, you think. If the MD ever needs a litigator, I’ll get a call. The MD will know I am the best litigator in town.

In fact the MD may be wondering what a litigator does that is relevant to his business, or whether appointing a litigator may signal that his business skills have failed. Or, whether his existing law firm already has a litigator, as all solicitors do the same thing kinda?

While we all know what we do, communicating in a few moments the specific thing that you do that is worth £350 an hour is actually rather hard.  To wrestle that much per hour from a client, they must believe you have near-divine powers, unless, of course, they have a problem.

…A problem that keeps them awake at night; one so large that the price of resolution is irrelevant as long as it is solved. Perhaps it is a contract they signed late in the night that now has a defect and may cost them their job; perhaps an under-performing colleague who desperately needs to spend more time with their family without the board noticing the cost; perhaps a product defect so potentially disastrous it could challenge the existence of their entire operation.  But perhaps when you meet the MD, no such problem is pressing.

To build an ongoing advisory relationship between your practice and the corporate, the relationship must start somewhere.  You need to convey in a few seconds what you do that is truly special, in a way that could easily be understood by your perfect client.

So stop and think about the advice you want to give that will get you that £350 per hour with no questions asked and a very grateful client at the end. Think about a matter that you worked on that went really well.  What did you do that set you apart from your peers? It must be good, to warrant the large hourly rate, and it needs to be precise.

Let’s suppose you are a product defect specialist and your gift is partly to defend such claims, but also to advise the client on minimising reputational damage. The value of defending the claim may be large, but the firm will have to live with the fallout long after the claim is settled, so saving the brand will have a higher value.

In this case, a better introduction to the MD would be that you are a litigator who specialises in immediately and substantially reducing product defect claims, and minimising the cost of the resulting reputational damage.  Any MD with a brand will have the need for the latter even if there is no specific product defect, so you’ll be listened to.

Alternatively, talk to corporate prospects about Risk Management rather than litigation. All good MDs are engaged in Risk Management every day and you therefore align yourself with a core problem they already have in play, rather than with a potential event the MD hopes will never happen.

Remember, you are good news, not bad.  Keep close to you examples of two or three big recent problems, the great advice you gave, and what happened for the client afterwards.

So think about what you do very carefully. Who could need it? What language might they use to describe it? And present yourself as the agent of the specific solution they want.

Liam Wall
BigWig Legal Network

What is BigWig Legal Network?

The deregulation of UK legal structures will have a huge impact on how Law is practised and new legal services are offered.  BigWig Legal Network is the UK’s first membership development organisation for fee earners in legal practices, priced for membership affordability, that will offer what legal professionals desire most of all:  Accurate, dependable new insights and techniques for developing the legal services of the future.

Find out more at our Last Wednesday meetings.


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