Fees matter only when nothing else matters

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If you’re like most attorneys, you pay attention to what your competition charges and make an effort to keep your fees in line with theirs.

You don’t have to.

Because fees are way down the list of factors clients cite for choosing their attorney. And because there are things you can do to distinguish yourself from your competition, making it more likely that clients will choose you (and stick with you) even if you charge more.

How can you differentiate yourself? Here you go:

Better results.

If you’re better than other attorneys in your field, don’t keep that a secret. Let prospective clients and the people who refer them know you’re better than other lawyers in your field. Prove it by highlighting your accomplishments, reviews, testimonials, and endorsements.

Better service.

Yes, clients will pay more for better service. At least the kinds of clients you want. But quality service isn’t enough, you have to deliver amazing service. You need to be so good your clients wouldn’t think of going anywhere else. So good they want to tell everyone about you.

Specialization.

Clients prefer lawyers who specialize and they’re willing to pay more for them. They see specialists as having greater skills, knowledge, and experience. They believe that a lawyer who specializes can do the job better and quicker and with fewer problems or distractions, and this is worth more to them.

They also prefer lawyers who specialize in their niche, market or type of client.

Know, like, trust.

Other lawyers may do what you do, deliver the results you deliver, give their clients incredible service, but they aren’t you.

You are unique.

When your clients and referral sources know, like, and trust you, they will usually continue to choose you. 

Build relationships with your clients and professional contacts. Get to know them (and their families, partners, and key people) on a personal level, and make sure they know you, too.

Show your market that you are better or different. If you do, your fees won’t matter. If you don’t, your fees will be the only that matters.

More ways to differentiate yourself

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Are you worth $350 an hour?

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If you have clients who willingly pay the fees you charge, whether that’s hourly or flat fee or some other basis, it seems clear that you are worth what you charge, at least to those clients.

Ah, but I’m not asking if you’re charging more than you’re worth, in case that’s what you were thinking. I’m asking if you’re charging less than you’re worth, or, more accurately, less than the market will pay.

If you charge $350 per hour (or the equivalent), what if you could get as much work at $450 per hour? What would that do to your bottom line? Who says you couldn’t get $550 per hour?

C’mon, you know you’ve thought about this before?

When you set up shop, you looked at what other lawyers were charging and set your fees somewhere in the same neighborhood, right?

You have to stay competitive, right?

Then, when other attorneys raised their fees, you (eventually) raised yours.

Something like that?

Well, if “average” is okay with you, I understand why you would do this.

But what if you want to earn more than average? What if you’re worth more than the average?

There’s only one way to find out.

Increase your fees and see if the market will pay more.

You can do that with your existing clients. If you lose some, you might make up for that loss by the increased fees paid by the ones who stay, plus the higher fees paid by new clients.

If you lose 20% of your clients but you get 20% more from everyone else, you’re way ahead.

The other way to do it is to hold the line with existing clients (for now) and charge new clients the higher fee.

“What if clients won’t pay more?”

What if they will?

What if you don’t lose any clients?

What if you could increase your income by 30% with the stroke of a pen? What if you’ve been under-charging your clients for a long time?

Before you twist yourself into a knot agonizing over this decision, I have one more thought for you:

Raising your fees might actually help you attract more clients.

It’s true. There’s no competition at the top. The most expensive lawyers in town don’t usually have a shortage of clients.

Yes, there are other factors in play, but how much a lawyer is worth is subjective. If you charge more, in the eyes of many, you’re worth more.

Chew on that for awhile.

This may help you figure things out

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When a prospective client says you charge too much

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What do you say to a prospective client who says you charge too much or you charge more than other lawyers for the same work?

If you don’t at least occasionally hear this, you may not be charging enough. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Anyway, what do you tell the client who balks at your fees?

One thing you can do is explain what you don’t charge for.

Tell them about free services or extras you provide, at no additional charge. This will not only increase the perceived value of your services, it will imply that other lawyers don’t include those things, even if they do.

For example, you might tell them that instead of having an employee meet with them, you will personally meet with them and go through the documents (discovery, etc.), explaining everything, answering all of their questions, and making sure everything is done right.

Or, tell them that when they hire you to do X, they also get Y.

Turn a potential negative into a selling point. A reason to choose you instead of any other attorney they might find.

But don’t wait for clients to complain about your fees or ask why you charge so much. They might not bother to ask and just call someone else.

Instead, post information on your website describing all the value and extra services you provide your clients. Tell them what’s included, and don’t scrimp on the details. Explain this at the first appointment, too.

You want clients to think, “She may charge a bit more but I can see that she’s worth it,” and this is a simple way to do that.

How to prepare invoices that get paid promptly

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How old farts get more done

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I read about a study that says people over 40 are most productive when they work three days a week or less.

Great. Where do I sign up?

Actually, I signed up a long time ago when I was still in my twenties. Cutting my work week to three days (from a less-productive, stress-filled six-day schedule) allowed me to multiply my income and start enjoying life.

So, even though I haven’t always worked only three days a week, this idea gets a thumbs up from me.

The question is, what are you going to do with this piece of information?

If you aren’t self-employed and you want to give it a whirl, you’re going to have to negotiate with your employer. See if you can work out a way that you get paid for your output instead of your time.

When I started paying my staff a salary instead of by the hour, I told them I didn’t care how many hours they worked as long as they got their work done.

They did and we were both happier.

If you’re self-employed and you want to cut your hours, sit down and have a talk with yourself. See if you can work something out.

What if you bill by the hour?

Stop doing that.

Try flat fees or package your services in a way that you can get paid no matter how many hours the job takes you.

You’ll work less and earn more. And you and your clients will be happier.

Even if you’re still in your twenties.

Get the check: stress-free billing and collection

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Rewarding and incentivizing clients

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Who says you have to charge all of your clients the same fee and/or the same terms?

You might offer

  • Former clients an incentive to return (e.g., lower fee, additional service as a bonus, extended payment plan, a free review, a free update, etc.)
  • First-time clients a special offer to try your firm
  • Existing clients an incentive to hire you for other services or to hire you more often
  • Longtime clients a lower rate or to “lock in” the existing rate for two years (by doing something)
  • A lower rate to new clients who provide a bigger retainer
  • Different packages, at different price points, to give clients incentives to “buy” more now instead of waiting

Are you getting any ideas?

Try it with a small segment of your client list. For example, you could send a letter to clients who haven’t hired you for ten years or more and make them a special offer. If you like the results, you could roll out the offer to other “old” clients.

Wait. Can you reward and incentivize lawyers and other professionals to provide more referrals? You betcha. You can learn all about it in Lawyer-to-Lawyer Referrals.

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Sometimes, you should let them see you sweat

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Seth Godin said something I’ve mentioned before. He said there are two ways to provide your service. The first way is “with drama”. Let the client see how hard you’re working. Make a big deal about all the additional effort you’re expending on their behalf.

In other words, let them see you sweat.

The other way: “Without drama. Make it look effortless.”

Godin says both ways can work and you should choose the approach depending on the client and the situation.

I agree that both approaches are viable but there’s a third option. You can let the client know you’re working hard for them or giving them extra effort or value without being dramatic.

If you’re providing extra services or other freebies, for example, list them on your invoice followed by a “courtesy credit” or other indication that you’re not charging for those extras.

You can also provide invoices with lots of details about your work instead of the more typical invoice that omits most of the details. Let them see all that you did behind the scenes to get the job done.

You can also involve them in the natural drama of the matter by sending regular reports about your work and progress and by cc’ing them on correspondence. When you speak to them, you can use body language and tone of voice to provide subtle clues about the magnitude of your effort, no sweating required.

At the end of the day, you want clients to know that what you do is hard but you have it under control.

Invoices that get paid

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When to qualify prospective clients for money

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Some clients can’t afford you. They need your help, they trust you and want to sign up, they just don’t have the money, or they have it but don’t want to spend it.

When would you like to find that out?

Before they meet with you, or after you’ve spent a lot of time talking to them about their problem and your solution?

If you talk to them and they don’t hire you, is that a complete waste of time?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Maybe they’ll realize they have to do something and they will beg, borrow, or steal the money to pay you. Maybe they’ll hire another lawyer who will mess things up and they’ll come back to you to fix things, at greater cost. Or, maybe they can’t afford your primary service right now but they can afford one of your “entry level” services and get more help later.

Maybe they won’t ever hire you but they will appreciate you for meeting with them and send you referrals.

So, it depends.

Clearly, however, you can’t spend all your time talking to people who don’t have any money. You need to weed them out in advance.

How do you do that?

By promoting your services to target markets and prospective clients who have money and avoiding the ones who don’t.

By educating your referral services about your ideal client and including something about fees and retainers.

By giving prospective clients (on your website, in your ads or other marketing materials), a general idea of what they will need to pay up front.

And, when you meet with prospective clients, qualifying them as to their ability to pay.

How do you the latter? Early on, say something like this:

“I’ll need to get more information, of course, before I can tell you what I can do for you. If I can help you, you need to know that my minimum fee is X [I’ll need a retainer of X]. Would that be a problem for you?”

If they say it won’t be a problem, mazeltov. If they say it might be a problem, or their body language tells you it is, you can explore that subject further or head in a different direction.

How to get referrals from people who don’t hire you

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Why you need to offer more than one option

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Your prospective client balks at signing up for your $15,000 “Standard” package. What do you do?

  1. Show him why he needs it and why it is a good value?
  2. Show him your $9,000 “Basic” package?
  3. Show him your $22,000 “Deluxe” package?
  4. Show him the door because you don’t have any other packages?

Some say that you should “drop down” to the lower priced package because it will appear more affordable next to the more expensive option you first showed him. Others say that if you do that, the prospect will be more likely to see the lesser-priced option as inferior and “buy” nothing.

They say that instead of moving down in price, you should move up.

Moving up in price, that is, from your $15,000 package to your $22,000 package will get the prospect thinking in terms of value instead of price, they say. If money is truly a factor for him, your $15,000 package may now seem more attractive.

My thoughts:

  • Clients are always concerned about price but they are more concerned about making a mistake. If they can afford it, they would rather pay more and make the right decision.
  • It’s not just the price that’s important, it is the perceived value. A more expensive option that includes a lot of “nice to have but not essential” elements is different than a package of “critically important” elements, which is different than a package of “important but can wait” elements.
  • What you should do depends on what you’re offering and what other options the client has, i.e., other lawyers, waiting. Try both strategies (higher then lower, and lower then higher) and see which one works best.
  • If the client still can’t decide and is ready to walk, having an undisclosed third option ($9,000/Basic) might allow you to save the sale.
  • In some circumstances, it might be best to offer all three options to the client right from the beginning.

How’s that for a lawyer-like answer?

One thing is certain: not having at least one other option should never be an option. Always have something else to offer a would-be client because showing them the door isn’t a good option for either of you.

You’ll get more clients signing up when they are referrals

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Why don’t you charge more?

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Some lawyers charge $1000 per hour. Some charge even more. Some charge flat fees and can earn $20,000 in a day. Some get bonuses or a piece of the action and earn more on one deal or one case than many lawyers earn in two years.

How about you?

How much do you charge? Why don’t you charge more?

You’re worth what clients are willing to pay you (and you are willing to accept). If you would like to charge more but don’t think clients will pay it, stop and think for a minute: what if you’re wrong? What if you could charge more? A lot more. And get it, all day every day.

What would that do for you?

Would you be able to get rid of low-paying clients and work you don’t enjoy?

Would you be able to hire more employees and provide your clients with more value, allowing you to further increase your revenue?

Would you be able to improve your marketing and bring in better clients or bigger cases?

Would you be able to move to a better office that’s more appealing to higher-end clients?

Would you be able to open a second office and leverage a client base in another market?

Would you be able to upgrade your wardrobe and automobile, network with better prospects and professionals, and thus take your practice to an even higher level?

Would you have more time available, to improve your health, to be with family, and to do the things you’d like to do to build your career instead of grinding it out in the trenches all day?

Lots of things you could do if you were earning more. The question is, what do you have to do to earn it? How could you charge (a lot) more than you charge right now?

Make a list of ten things you can do that would allow you to charge higher fees or otherwise significantly increase your revenue. Narrow the list down to your top three ideas. Then, choose your best idea and get to work on it. Work on it every day. Make it your focus and keep working on it until you get it done.

When you’ve tripled your income, send me $100,000 as my fee for helping you get there.

That’s the way it works, bub. You get paid more when you’re worth more. And you ask for it.

One way to earn more is to improve your cash flow

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Three ways to level up your practice

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When it comes to growing a law practice, slow and steady works. But, by definition, it’s slow. What if you want to grow quickly? What if you want to dramatically increase your income in a relatively short period of time?

Oh yes, it can be done. Some lawyers do it right out of the law school gate. Some do it when they reach their “day of disgust” and finally decide to get serious about marketing. Some do it when they see their numbers dropping and their fear of losing everything motivates them to finally take action.

But it can be done.

There are lots of things you could do to dramatically increase your income. I’m going to give you three. But more important than “what you do” is “what you think” and so first, I’m going to give you a few mindset adjustments.

First, to significantly boost your income you’ll need to do things that offer a big potential payoff. That means there might be additional risk and additional expense and you have to be prepared to accept this. You also need to be prepared to do things that take you outside your comfort zone.

Second, you have to jettison the idea that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time you work and the amount of income you earn. It’s not about how long it takes to do the work, it’s about how much value you deliver.

Third, you have to look for ways to employ leverage. One of the simplest ways to do that is to hire (more) people or outsource, and delegate as much of your work as possible. Rule of thumb: you should ONLY do those things that ONLY you can do. NB: there is very little that ONLY you can do.

Fourth, no matter how good you are getting things done you’ll probably need to get better. If you want to dramatically grow your practice, working harder is an option but so is working smarter.

Working smarter means “doing the right things,” the “20% activities that deliver 80% of your results and income”. It also means “doing things right”–getting the work done more quickly, efficiently, and with less effort.

With these principles in mind, here are three ways you might level up your practice:

(1) Bigger cases or better clients.

Bigger cases pay bigger fees. Why settle for an average fee of $10,000 when you could get $25,000? Or $100,000? The cases are out there and there’s no reason why you can’t get them.

Better clients pay higher fees and have more legal work. Why settle for “one of” work when you can bring in clients who have a steady stream of work?

(2) Increase your fees

One of the simplest ways to earn more is to charge more. Consider increasing your fees.

Not ten or fifteen percent, thirty percent. Fifty percent. 100%. Or more.

Crazy? Maybe. But maybe not. There’s only one way to find out.

Yes, you’ll lose some clients who can’t afford the increase or don’t want to pay it, but the new clients you bring in could more than offset those losses.

(3) Better referral sources (and more of them)

One of the best ways to bring in more business is to find referral sources that can send you more clients (and better clients, while you’re at it). Find professionals who can refer you five clients per month instead of five clients per year.

They’re out there and you can find them. Here’s a hint: they usually hang out with each other. Find one and they will lead you to others.

So, what do you think? Are you thinking, “These won’t work for me,” or are you thinking, “How can I make these work for me?”

Your attitude will determine your altitude. Translation: if you want to get big, fast, you need to think big and take massive action.

And remember, if you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

Plan your plan with this

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