The GC of a global giant shared this gem during a client feedback interview: “I have on my desk right now yet another invoice which will require interpreters and a Sherpa to decipher and see if I should pay.” 80.1%* of clients think like this GC—questioning the value of their law firm’s services—because they can’t easily understand what exactly they are paying for. And, once these GCs start spending their precious time deciphering the invoice they find unexpected entries and other surprises which makes most clients put the invoice aside until the law firm’s accounting department calls.
At the same time, 19.9%* of clients look at their primary law firm’s invoice and think how shrewd they are for hiring their firm. The fee is a bargain—whatever the amount billed. These corporate counsel are convinced the value simply dwarfs the fee. It’s a no-brainer. And these coveted corporate counsel give their law firms higher rates, more work, and pay more quickly.
The Secret to Your Value Dwarfing Your Fees
The savvy law firms serving the 19.9% embrace communications and knowledge transfer in a manner other law firms don’t. This knowledge transfer focuses primarily on process. From the start of a matter, through all the changes and surprises and right through the final invoice and more, the professionals who aren’t fighting to get their bills paid are putting in the time up front to make sure the client knows exactly what they are getting. This communication can be divided into 3 major phases:
Before the work begins:
1. Share your detailed strategy for the matter at hand prior to commencing work.
2. Discuss both the business and legal implications of the matter along with your recommended strategy.
3. Outline the potential problems and obstacles likely to be encountered during the work—and how it could impact the scope, budget, and timing moving forward.
4. Provide a budget before the work begins—and before the client asks.
5. Review your version of the staffing plan with the client before making final work assignments.
6. Articulate how the team is staffed with the best resources from across the firm given the specific nature of your client’s work.
Once the work has started:
7. Provide regular updates on progress to your clients according to their communication preferences.
8. Notify clients in real time when scope, circumstances, or fact patterns change—explain how these changes will impact outcomes, budgets, and timing along with your new plan of action.
9. Provide the client with tools and updates to effectively and efficiently handle questions from their management team.
10. When problems inevitably arise, bring the client into the process immediately and outline your recommended solution.
Before you submit your final invoice:
11. Explain unusual or unexpected line items in the invoice before the invoice is ever submitted as final.
12. Use client feedback at the end of the matter to ask your client how the outcome delivered exceeded the original expectations—and what you can do better next time.
The professionals who learn the art of communication and knowledge transfer enjoy more business and higher rates than all others. The rainmakers have turned this skill to an art form. You can start your path to providing increasing value to clients at step 1 and work your way through to step 12. Even if you never get to step 12, each step you take makes you more valuable to your client—and being more valuable makes invoices seem easier to read and smaller in amount—no matter what you charge.
* Based on BTI research conducted between March 2015 and September 2015. BTI conducted more than 300 independent, individual interviews with CLOs and General Counsel at Fortune 1000 companies and large organizations.