Should I ever cut my fees for a client who wants to haggle?

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A Mr. Richard Feder of Ft. Lee, New Jersey, writes. . .

Sorry, I’m stuck in the 70’s.

A lawyer emailed and says he has a client who is questioning his fees and wants him to reduce it. “Should I cut my fees,” he asks. He’s afraid it would open the door for her to ask again and again. Not to mention what might happen if word gets out and other clients and prospects get wind of it.

The short answer to this question is “no”. Don’t do it.

Don’t negotiate fees or cut them for an individual client. Doing so assails the integrity of your fee structure. “You will? Oh, so that means all of the other times I’ve paid $X, you were overcharging me?”

Explain that even if you were willing to lower your fee, this would be unfair to all of your other clients who pay your regular rates. It would also be unfair to you, since you would be working for less than the fair market value of your services.

If she owns a business, ask what she would do if her clients or customers asked her to cut her fees or prices. If she has a job and her employer asked her to work for less pay, would she do it?

Ask her to explain why she is asking you to cut your fee. If she says you charge more than other attorneys charge, explain to her how you are different or how you are worth more, e.g., you have more experience, you have a better track record, you get the work done faster, you offer other benefits they don’t offer, and so on.

Show her that you charge more because you are worth more.

If she says she just doesn’t want to pay it, that’s a different story and it’s easy to handle.

Let’s say she’s asking you to cut your fee from $7500 to $5500. After you explain why you cannot do this, tell her that you would be happy to provide her with $5500 worth of work if that is more in line with her budget. At her option, she can get the rest of the work done later.

Or, you might suggest different terms, where the work is done in phases, over an extended period of time.

If this is not acceptable, graciously offer to provide referrals to other attorneys you know who might help her at a fee that is in line with her needs and her budget.

Be strong. Don’t negotiate your fees. If a client leaves because of it, they weren’t worth having as a client.

For more, see The Attorney Marketing Formula and Getting the Check

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Would you like that in tens and twenties?

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In law school, my torts professor told us that he was able to close his practice (retire) because he settled a particularly big case and banked a big fat fee.

It was close to 40 years ago, but I remember thinking, “Sounds good to me.”

One reason I chose personal injury over other practice areas is because big cases happen. One case could retire you, and that was my plan.

But it didn’t happen. I had some big cases, but not big enough to let me fold up my tent.

I was thinking about this on my walk this morning and I thought I would ask you a question. Here it is:

Would you rather have a big pile of cash (from any source) or enough cash flow coming in (from any source) to accommodate your desired life style?

Five million dollars in cash earning a four percent return, for example, equates to $200,000 in cash flow per year. Would you rather have the five million or $200k in passive income?

When I was in law school, I would have said gimme the cash. With what I know now, I’d take the income.

Aside from the fact that I’ve put on a few years and my priorities are different today, if I had the cash, I’d be afraid of squandering it. I might spend it or make bad investments. I’d have to spend time nurturing my nest egg, time I could spend doing other things.

How about you? Which would you take? I know, you’d take both. Touche, mon frere.

But this isn’t just a fanciful exercise. There is a point to it.

What you want in the future influences the choices you make today. To some extent, your cash or cash flow preference will dictate the direction of your career.

If you prefer cash, you need to consider practice areas that makes that possible. You might target start ups for clients because they might offer you a piece of their company in return for your services.

If cash flow is your thang, in the short term, you’ll want clients who have ongoing work for you. Business clients rather than consumer clients. For the long term, you’ll look at investing in income producing assets.

You could also start a business. That’s what I did. A series of businesses, actually, that provide me with passive income and allowed me to retire from practicing law.

One lesson in all this is that long term plans are often like an oral contract. They’re not worth the paper they’re written on.

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“Keep your eyes on your own paper!”

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When I went to school it was against the rules to cheat off of your neighbor’s paper. Not sure if that’s true today. After all, if you don’t copy off of someone else, you might hurt their feelings. It’s like telling them they’re not smart enough to copy. What if they are a different race or gender? You might be guilty of racism or sexism.

But hey, I’m old. What the hell do I know?

By the way, it’s okay for me to say I’m old, but if you say it, that would be ageism. Wait. What if you’re older than I am? Can an old guy be accused of ageism for calling an older guy old?

Okay, my head hurts. I’ll stop. Wait. Did I just hurt the feelings of migraine sufferers by saying my head hurts?

Where was I?

Ah yes, assuming that cheating (and plagiarism) are still verboten, I want to point out a loophole. A way you can use what other people write to create your own content.

Here’s the thing. It’s not plagiarism to copy someone else’s idea. So if one lawyer writes a blog post about a SCOTUS opinion and says he thinks it sucks eggs, and you agree with that, you can write your own post and say the very same thing.

Don’t use their words, just their ideas.

The same goes for the post’s title. You can’t copyright titles, so go ahead and use it if you can’t come up with your own.

Of course if you don’t agree with what the other writer said, you can say that instead. (Careful, though. You don’t want to hurt their feelings.)

So there you go. You can never say you don’t know what to write about. Look at what someone else wrote and cheat off of their paper.

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Do you make this mistake in marketing legal services?

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I heard two radio commercials yesterday and IMH (but accurate) O, both made the same mistake. Listen up. This is important even if you don’t advertise.

One spot was mass tort. I don’t recall the other. Both ads used the same call to action. They told (interested) listeners to call a telephone number, presumably, to make an appointment.

What’s wrong with that? Isn’t that why the lawyers are advertising? Isn’t that how the listener with a legal issue is going to get the help they need?

Sure. But here’s the thing. For every person who calls, there are perhaps ten people who “almost” call but don’t.

The ad caught there attention, they have the legal issue, or think they do, they need help, but for a multitude of reasons, they don’t call.

Maybe they think their problem is different. Maybe they’re scared and not ready to talk to someone. Maybe they don’t trust you. Maybe they think they’ll have to pay. Or they know the consultation is free but think they will have to pay after that (and can’t afford it). Maybe they think the person they talk to won’t answer any questions unless they come to their office. Maybe they’re busy and can’t take time off work. Maybe they didn’t write down the phone number. Maybe their dog threw up and the next day they forgot to call.

Lost of reasons. But the ads give the listener only two options: call or don’t call.

And most don’t call.

What if there was another option? What if they could learn more about their issue and the possible solutions, find out about the law and procedure, and learn about the lawyer’s background and how they have helped lots of other people with this problem?

What if they could get many of their basic questions answered without having to talk to anyone? What if they could sell themselves on taking the next step?

What if the ads told the listener to go their website, where they could get all of this, and more?

Do you think some of the listeners would do that? And if the website does a decent job of educating them and making them feel comfortable with these lawyers and their ability to help them, do you think more people would call or use the email contact form?

If more people did that, do you think these lawyers would get more clients?

Look, some of the listeners to these commercials are going to go online anyway, to see what they can find out about the problem and possible solutions. Your ad reminded them to do that.

What will they find? Which of your competitor’s website will they land on? Which of them will they hire instead of you?

In marketing your legal services, yes, you should give out your phone number and tell prospective clients to call. But you should also give them your website, so that if they’re not ready to call, they can get to know, like, and trust you, so that when they are ready to do something, the lawyer they call is you.

Marketing legal services with your website. Go here

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Viral videos for marketing a law firm

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You may have seen a video depicting an unhappy, soon-to-be ex-husband who took the household furniture and cut everything in half.

I didn’t see it until today but apparently, a lot of people did. At last count the video is up to five million views.

The video wasn’t produced by an unhappy husband, however. It was a prank or advertising gimmick (call it what you will) commissioned by a German law firm. That firm recently came clean, admitted their skulduggery and apologized.

But why? It was clever and got a lot of attention. You could say that it made a valuable point, that in a divorce, if you don’t have proper counsel, you could lose half your possessions.

Was it misleading? Yeah, but so what? They could have “signed” the video with the firm name, but it wouldn’t have nearly as many views.

Is the whole idea tacky? Unbecoming for a law firm? You could make that case, but I say, lighten up. Nobody got hurt, a lot of people got a chuckle or two, and the firm got some attention that will, I’m sure, convert into new business.

Do you agree? Disagree? Have you use viral videos for marketing? Are you smacking your forehead and saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

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It gets better and so will you

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A bought a new desk chair recently. I spent more 90 minutes setting it up. I studied the instructions, identified all of the parts, and took my time assembling the chair, making sure I did it right.

I did do it right, and the chair worked fine, but after I started using it, I noticed there was a flaw in the material and I could see that the seat backing would eventually come undone. I took the chair back to the store and exchanged it.

Setting up the chair the second time was a piece of cake. I knew what all the parts were and where they went, and everything went smoothly and quickly. I was done in less than 30 minutes.

I was able to set up the chair in about a third of the time because I had done it before. I was confident about what I was doing. I didn’t have to study the instructions or take my time making sure I had the right screws for the right holes.

The first time we do something is usually the most difficult. Even if we have detailed instructions, we are unsure and unsteady. We may come away with bloody knuckles or a bruised ego.

The first time I opened an office I was not very good at negotiating my lease. Over time, I learned what I could ask for, I knew market rates, and I had more experience and more confidence.

It was the same the first time I hired someone, the first time I appeared in court, and the first time I handled a big case and wondered if I should have tried for more than policy limits.

Writing your first article or blog post can be intimidating, painful, and slow. It may take you three hours to write 150 words. Do it again and it will be easier. Eventually, you’ll spit out a post in 15 minutes.

You may be all thumbs when it comes to networking. You don’t know what to say or do. You may think, “this isn’t for me,” but give it a few months; you might find out you’re actually pretty good at it.

Whatever it is, it gets better. And easier. And faster. You learn how to use the tools and implement the techniques. You learn from your mistakes. You do it again and again and eventually it becomes second nature.

Remember, there was a time when you couldn’t tie your shoes.

Don’t let your fears or inexperience stop you. If someone else has done it, the odds are that you can do it, too.

I know you know this. But sometimes, especially when you’re going through a rough period, you need to be reminded that it gets better and so will you.

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Using email in your marketing

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I spoke with an insurance broker yesterday who is using email in his marketing. He was about to send an email to prospects he had spoken to who had asked him to “send some information”. He wanted my feedback about the email he had composed.

He started reading to me but I stopped him after the first sentence because it sounded like he was selling something, which of course he was.

He had cold called local businesses, seeking to make appointments to show his wares. I told him that when someone tells you to send some information, it usually means they don’t want to see what you have to offer, they want to get rid of you and this, they believe, is a polite way to do that. I suggested he consider a policy of not sending information (in this context).

A better alternative is to “drop by” the business and introduce yourself to the owner. It turns out that this is his usual method of operation.

And then I put on my metaphor hat and described the posture anyone in sales should adopt, and that includes lawyers. We sell too, you know.

I said, “You don’t want to be seen as the “sales person” who comes into the store or office through the front door and sits in the waiting room waiting for an audience with the decision maker. You want to position yourself as a colleague, a fellow business owner, who comes in the back door and doesn’t have to wait because he and the owner are on a first name basis.”

Anyway, when he read his email to me, I stopped him because it was just like every other sales letter business people receive every day and it’s not going to be read or do anything to help him get an appointment.

I told him that if you look and sound like a sales person, your email will get put in the “B” pile, with all the bills and spam and advertising messages, to be read later, or more probably, not at all. You want to be in the “A” pile, which is comprised of email from people you know. The “A” pile gets read.

“If you want to send information via email,” I said, “I would write one or two lines and say something like, ‘here’s the info I promised, Joe,” and provide a link to it on your website”. In other words, keep it short and sweet, like you do when you send information to a friend or business acquaintance.”

That will stand out more than anything you could say in a sales letter.

In order to close more business, you have to get more people looking at what you have to offer. In order to do that, you have to stand out from the crowd. The best way to do that is to go in the back door.

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Are you busy? That’s a shame.

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Being busy isn’t necessarily something to brag about. It’s not a virtue. In fact, it may well be a failing if you’re busy doing things that aren’t important.

It’s better to be productive than busy.

Being productive means you’re producing. Creating value for yourself and others. It means you’re not simply in motion, you’ve got to something to show for your efforts.

What do you want to produce? What results do you want to achieve?

Not someday, now. You can have dreams and long term goals but life is lived in the present, so what do you want to do today?

What are your priorities?

You should be able to cite a few things that you are focused on, and only a few. Because if there are more than a few, it can’t be called “focus”. When everything is a priority, nothing is.

“If you have 3 priorities, you have priorities. If you have 25 priorities, you have a mess,” one writer said.

You may have heard it said that you can do anything you want in life, you just can’t do everything; there isn’t enough time. Fill your day producing things that are important to you, your family, and your clients. If you do that, you will have a productive and happy life, even if you’re not that busy.

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The truth about global warming

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You want to know the truth about global warming? The truth is that no matter what the truth is, a lot of people have made a lot of money and gained a lot of political capital by shouting about it from the rooftops.

You can do the same in your practice.

Not about global warming, necessarily, although you may choose that as your cause. You could be on either side of the issue and make a lot of hay. But any cause will do.

You need three things:

  1. A cause that has people on both sides
  2. One or more bad guys (people, companies, groups, etc.) you can denounce, and
  3. A passionate appeal for change, fueled by a heavy dose of fear

You can gain publicity, social media followers, supporters, contributors, and eventually, clients, by being the face and voice of something that gets people fired up.

Fear is essential. You’ve got to scare people or they won’t notice you or join your cause.

Pick something someone is doing and speak out against it. Launch a campaign against it. Tell the world about the evil that is being perpetuated and what will happen if something isn’t done about it.

Ideally, there will be a nexus between the cause and one of your clients or cases, or that is fundamental to your practice area. This will insulate you and give you the moral high ground in your role as an advocate.

It doesn’t matter whether the media loves you or hates you, promotes you or pans you. Any publicity is good publicity, as long as they spell your name right.

What matters is that you choose something that has legs and brings you enough supporters to make up for the ones on the other side of the issue that you will undoubtedly lose.

Okay, calm down. You don’t have to choose a politically charged issue like global warming and risk losing large swaths of your clients and friends. You can choose something less incendiary and do just fine.

You might find a local issue that is causing a stir, like the water shortages in California that are trending right now. Whose fault is it? What can be done about it?

You can gain fame and fortune by championing a cause that speaks to a constituency.

Choose a side and write about it on your blog. Stir the pot and see what happens.

Marketing is easy when you know The Formula

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If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right

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Do you enjoy practicing law? Do you look forward to going to work every day? If you do, great. If not, we need to talk.

The purpose of life is to experience joy. At least that’s what I believe. We’re not here to suffer or sacrifice endlessly, we’re here to experience our time on earth as the blessing it is meant to be.

Your work, your marriage, your social life, even your faith, should be fun. Or at least gratifying. If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.

I’m not talking about the little things you have to do to keep the wheels spinning. You may have to plunge out a toilet every once in awhile. Marketing may not be your favorite thing, but you have to embrace it to some extent because without it, you won’t be able to do the work you love.

Okay, I said “work you love” but I don’t really mean it. You don’t have to love your work to be successful at it. You just can’t hate it.

For some, work is an expression of their joy and their purpose in life. It defines them and pulls them forward towards a better future. For others, work is a means to an end. They enjoy it, but it’s not who they are.

And that’s fine.

There will always be things you don’t want to do. There will always be parts of your work that you would rather not do.

As long as most of your time is spent doing things you enjoy, you’ll be just fine.

My law practice wasn’t my life’s purpose. There were a lot of things I didn’t enjoy. But I focused on what I did enjoy: helping people (who appreciated it) and making money. That’s what I focused on. That’s what kept me going.

I delegated the things I didn’t like, or put blinders on and accepted them as part of the deal.

Eventually, though, the negatives outweighed the positives and I knew it was time to move on.

Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Starting my practice was, at the time, a daring adventure. When the thrill was gone, I found a new adventure.

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