[Originally posted 9 May 2017. Updated 14 November 2019].
A number of my other blog posts have suggested clients should look at how their lawyers work and ask questions, like what systems do they have? What training do they do to ensure they provide the best levels of service?
This time I want to look at the related topic of pricing. I say related topic, because the pricing options a law firm can offer will depend heavily on the systems they have. A firm that has not invested in good systems is unlikely to be able to offer transparent and certain pricing.
Perhaps reflecting this lack of investment in systems, many lawyers still use hourly rate billing and loose estimates of cost based on time that will be spent (e.g. $3,000 to $5,000...), which is inherently unsatisfactory for clients as it contains little incentive to be efficient and can often lead to nasty bill shocks (e.g. $7,000) at the end of the matter when the lawyer advises that it took longer than they thought it would.
To try and get good value, clients often focus on discounts to the hourly rate, which does not solve the problem if the number of hours is open ended. The firm could just throw 5 people onto a simple job.
Pricing in this way can be a complete finger in the air, where not only would different lawyers within a firm be likely to charge different amounts for the same piece of work, but the same lawyer could charge different amounts on a different day. Isn't that bizarre?
Firms that can give greater clarity and certainty on pricing - while still giving good outcomes and not taking shortcuts - should be rewarded by clients. But, for that to happen, clients have to look beyond hourly rates and ask the right questions.