An attorney who gets it

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I may not use the word “posture” but that’s what I mean when I recommend charging top dollar for your services, refusing to discount or match another lawyer’s fees, and being confident enough to tell prospective clients to talk to other lawyers, as I did in yesterday’s post. Virginia appellate attorney Steve Emmert gets it.

After reading yesterday’s post, he emailed me the following:

Hi, David –

I read this entry, and it suggested a related topic. You may recall that I’m an appellate lawyer. Because my state’s appellate bar is small, we all know each other and we’re all pals. I therefore have a ready database of available alternate counsel.

My “related topic” is my fees. I have intentionally set my fees at the upper end of the range for appellate lawyers here. When someone – either a prospective client or one of my “customers,” a trial lawyer – calls and asks about my fee, I tell them up-front that I’m one of the most expensive appellate lawyers in the state. I then quote them a fee based on that premise.

As you might imagine, my fees dissuade many customers and clients from hiring me. I’m never upset when they can’t afford me; I tell them I can find them another capable appellate lawyer who can do it for less money. That makes everybody happy – my pal gets a new case that he would never have seen otherwise, and the client/customer gets to experience the unthinkable – an attorney telling him or her, “Don’t give me your money.” That usually floors them, and I have received more than one message, a year or two later, thanking me for my honesty and for the referral.

Finally, the real point of this overlong note:

Some customers or clients ask me to reduce my fee. My stock reply harks back to the previous paragraph: “No, but if you want, I can find you a capable” etc. This usually generates one of two responses. The first is, “Yes, please, I’d like to save some money.” I give those folks a name or two and then go about my life with a clean conscience. People who want to economize on a lawyer are not high on my target list of incoming business.

The other possible answer, which often comes after a day or two, is “I’ve thought about it, and while I appreciate the offer of a less-expensive lawyer, I’ve decided that I really want you to represent me. I’ll pay your quoted fee.” Imagine what that feels like; these are the kind of customers that you really go the extra mile for.

As you might surmise, Steve loves what he does. He gets to pick and choose the cases he accepts and because he charges top dollar, he doesn’t need lots of business to enjoy a very comfortable income.

Hold on, you say? That’s fine for someone with his years of experience and stellar reputation. One look at his website and you know that this is the guy you want to hire. Most attorneys can’t be that choosy. Most attorneys can’t get away with being “one of the most expensive” in their field.

And you are right. Most attorneys can’t. But far more could do so than even make the attempt.

Look, you’ve got to be good at what you do and you’ve got to be able to prove it. You have to have the chops. You can’t be the new kid on the block and expect to charge what lawyers with thirty year’s experience charge.

But you can charge more than you think.

Most attorneys play it safe. They “price match” what other attorneys charge, or they undercut them. They’re afraid of the competition. They expect that all clients choose their attorney based on price (they don’t) and believe they have to be competitive to get their “share” of the work that’s available.

They operate in fear, not confidence.

Who’s to say you can’t charge more than you do? Who’s to say you’re not as good as other lawyers who charge more, if not better?

I don’t know if you have what it takes to be “one of the most expensive” attorneys in your market, but I have long advocated setting fees that are at least in the upper one-third of the market. Obviously, most attorneys don’t.

If you’re not good enough yet, do what you have to do to get there. But if you are, don’t let a lack of confidence or a fear of losing business to other (cheaper) lawyers stop you from getting what you’re worth.

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